You wouldn't think of winter as the perfect time to serve fruit, but the timing actually couldn't be better. Just think of clove-studded orange slices stewing in apple cider, or chardonnay-poached pears dressed with sweetened cranberries.
Experts say fruit is worthy of being front and center on holiday tables for three reasons:
- Fruit adds freshness, flavor, and color to recipes, to serving plates, and to a holiday or party spread.
- Fruit adds fiber and nutrients to an otherwise predictably unwholesome menu. "Fruits help balance the rest of the fatty foods people traditionally experience in the meal during the holiday season," notes Robert Schueller, a spokesman for Melissa's Produce.
- Fruits are perfect for the holiday season because they're widely available in produce departments across the country. If you can't find a particular fruit there, you can often find it in the frozen or dried fruit section.
So Many Fruits, So Little Time
People complain to Janet Rouslin, an associate professor with the College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I., that their consumption of fruit declines in winter because the quality of their usual choices (say, apples or peaches) isn't as good as during the warm-weather months.
"I remind them that winter fruits actually include a large variety," says Rouslin. She encourages people to include all varieties of citrus fruit, pomegranates, cranberries, and dates.
Other festive winter fruits to consider, according to Schueller, are the Korean pear (the best of the Asian pears), persimmons, and the very holiday-appropriate star fruit.
Quince is a winter fruit favorite of Michael Anthony, executive chef of the Gramercy Tavern restaurant in New York. Anthony stacks wooden crates full of quince in the lobby of the restaurant so their aroma welcomes guests as they enter.
"I like to lightly poach quince in white wine and sugar, then sauté wedges of it with foie gras," he says. "It also tastes great with roasted onion puree and toasted brioche."
It's not often thought of a fruit because it is creamy rather than sweet, but the avocado (available in winter, thanks to Florida and California) can add a festive splash of green to holiday salads, appetizers, and casseroles.
But, Schueller says, perhaps no type of fruit is more synonymous with wintertime than citrus, including all types of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons, and kumquats.
The Meyer lemon season starts kicking into high gear right around the holiday season.
"These lemons produce a juice that is slightly sweeter than a normal lemon, and through a curing/marinating process the skin is dynamite!" Anthony says.
Our Winter: Their Summer
"People love the idea of a berry dessert soup for the holidays," says Paulette Mitchell, author of the cookbook A Beautiful Bowl of Soup.
But aren't berries in season in the summer? Well, says Miller, raspberries and blueberries come to the U.S. from Chile -- where it is summer during our holiday season. (For a festive and fast berry soup recipe, see Miller's recipe below.)
According to Agnes Perez, an agricultural economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chile is the biggest supplier of imported fruit to the U.S. during the winter months. Also look for grapes, peaches, and nectarines imported from Chile. You might also see clementines imported from Spain and avocados from Mexico, says Perez.
12 Festive Fruit Tips
Here are 12 tips for working fruit into your winter and holiday diet:
1. For a healthful finale to a holiday meal, toss fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries with fresh orange juice, suggests Mitchell. "Add some candied ginger and refrigerate the mixture for a few hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend," she says.
2. Serve a mixture of fresh or frozen berries with a splash of liqueur (like Grand Marnier or Chambord) over a slice of angel food cake or light pound cake for a colorful, low-calorie dessert.
3. Citrus fruit (oranges, tangerines, clementines, grapefruit, tangelos, kumquats) can be cut up and combined for a medley of flavors and colors. Rouslin suggests adding a touch of honey for sweetness, and some coconut for texture. But there is more to citrus than segments, says Floyd Cardoz, chef at Tabla in New York and author of One Spice, Two Spice. "Adding the aromatic zests, segments, and juice of citrus fruits make simple braises, roasts, and vegetables seem more festive and flavorful," Cardoz says.
4. Rouslin likes to use the seeded pulp and juice from pomegranates in stews, drinks, marinades and sauces. You can also make a green or fruit salad look and taste more festive by sprinkling dark red pomegranate seeds over the top.
5. "Dried fruit adds interesting textures and acidity levels to help in flavor layering," says Cardoz. Easy-to-find dates and raisins are featured in many holiday dishes, especially bakery and dessert recipes. Rouslin suggests adding diced dates to salads, soups, and starchy dishes as well.
6. For a super-easy way to add flavor and color to any dish, be it stuffing, muffins, salads, or entrées, try dried cranberries in bags (usually near the raisins in your market). Or, choose dried cherries, which are also available at many supermarkets.
7. Although fresh cranberries are sour and hard when raw, they become wonderfully tart and chewy when simmered in juice or water with a touch of sugar or honey, says Rouslin. "Cranberries can be added to starch dishes, such as rice or couscous, for added color and flavor," Rouslin says.
8. Avocados add a splash of color and creamy texture to holiday salads, soups, appetizers, or casseroles. A decorative way of serving them is to cut avocados lengthwise into slices, then fan out the slices. Shrimp or crab salad is wonderful served in a pitted avocado half.
9. Kiwi fruit, while a bit pricey in winter months, are available in some supermarkets. They add a beautiful green color and fabulous flavor to any fruit salad or platter.
10. Thread bite-size pieces of colorful fruit onto a kabob or short bamboo skewer, and suddenly it's a party! Some fresh fruits that work well on skewers are kumquats, sliced kiwi, orange wedges, and imported grapes and strawberries. Pineapple chunks packed in juice and bottled cherries also work well.
11. Fruit with nuts is a match made in holiday heaven. Just adding a handful of nuts to fruit salads or desserts makes them more festive.
12. According to Cardoz, adding spices gives fruit complexity and complements its natural flavors. "Spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are great warming spices that have healthful benefits in winter," he says.
Festive Fruit Recipes
Holiday Pear Pecan Salad
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion of fresh fruit plus 1 tablespoon nuts
This salad is crunchy thanks to the pears, apples, and celery. The dried fruit and nuts make it festive.
1/2 cup pecan pieces (or substitute walnut pieces)
3 diced pears (such as red Bartlett or Anjou), ripe but still crisp
1 large crisp apple, like Granny Smith or Fuji, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, sliced on a diagonal
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)
1/3 cup Apple Cider Dressing (instructions below)
For Apple Cider Dressing:
- Blend 1 1/2 tablespoons of maple butter (at room temperature) with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, then stir in 1/4 cup apple cider. If it doesn't blend well, microwave on HIGH briefly, then stir.
- To toast nuts, add to small nonstick frying pan and cook, stirring often, over medium heat until lightly brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
- Add diced pears and apples, sliced celery, and dried cranberries to serving bowl. Add apple cider dressing; toss gently. Sprinkle toasted nuts over the top and serve.
Yield: 8 servings of 3/4 cup each, or 6 servings of 1 cup each
Recipe provided by Elaine Magee; © 2006 Elaine Magee.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion medium dessert OR 1/2 cup starchy foods with fat + 1 portion fresh fruit
3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries or blackberries (about 1 pound)
3 cups diced pears
2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour (or 3 tablespoons if using frozen fruit)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Splenda
2 tablespoons liqueur, such as Chambord or Grand Marnier
3/4 cup quick oats
6 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
6 tablespoons unbleached white flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup less-fat margarine (with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon) or whipped butter
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 9-inch or 8 x 8-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray.
- Add berries, pears, flour, sugar, Splenda, and liqueur to a large mixing bowl and toss to blend well. Pour into prepared baking dish.
- Add oats, flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt to a large mixing bowl; beat with electric mixer on low speed to combine. Add margarine in chunks and beat on medium speed, cleaning margarine off beaters several times, until a nice crumb has formed. Drizzle buttermilk over the top of oat mixture and blend with mixer just until your crumb mixture has moistened nicely. Add a teaspoon or two more of buttermilk, if needed.
- Sprinkle oat topping over berry and pear mixture and press down gently. Bake 20-25 minutes or until topping is nicely brown and fruit filling is thick and bubbly.
Yield: 9 servings
Recipe provided by Elaine Magee; © 2006 Elaine Magee.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1/2 cup fruit juice + 1 portion fresh fruit
Slightly tangy, refreshing, and simple to prepare, this crimson soup is an elegant way to enjoy berries. Serve it warm or chilled for dessert or as a first course. It will keep for up to 2 days in a covered container in the refrigerator.
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of ground cloves
1/4 cup red wine, preferably a fruity wine, such as Zinfandel
Thin lemon slices for garnish
- Combine all ingredients, except wine and lemon slices, in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let cool until warm.
- Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and stir in the wine.
- Serve immediately. Or refrigerate in a covered container until chilled, at least 4 hours, before serving. Garnish each serving with a lemon slice.
Yield: 2 1/2 cups (4 servings)
Per serving: 124 calories, 0.4 g protein, 29 g carbohydrate, 0.3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.8 g fiber, 5 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 3%.
Recipe from The Simple Soups Deck by Paulette Mitchell and Maryana Vollstedt, Chronicle Books, 2006; and A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell, Chronicle Books, 2004. Reprinted with permission of the author.