[NAFEX] Lee Reich's Article
Lon J. Rombough
lonrom at hevanet.com
Tue Mar 30 12:04:07 EST 2004
After Sam Brungardt posted the URL of the story by Lee Reich, I sought and
got permission to have the article posted. Also, Lee sends the following
My new book UNCOMMON FRUITS FOR EVERY GARDEN (Timber Press) will be out in a
couple of weeks. It's a sequel to my first book, with new fruits, color
photos, new information, and updated nursery sources. Signed copies are
available from me at 387 Springtown Rd., New Paltz, NY 12561 for $27, which
March 28, 2004
The Fruit Is Uncommon, but the Care Is Not
By LEE REICH
ARELY can store-bought fruit match the lusciousness of backyard fruit grown
to perfection and picked at peak flavor. "Grown to perfection," there's the
rub. Apples, peaches and many other common fruits demand exacting spraying
and pruning. But, curiously enough, a number of uncommon fruits require no
special care and have unique and delectable flavors you cannot find at the
Consider, for example, an obscure fruit called the shipova (X Sorbopyrus
auricularis). This hybrid of pear and mountain ash can be traced to a plant
growing on the grounds of the Museum of Natural History in Paris in 1834.
Why the tree has remained so uncommon I do not know.
Each spring it is covered with fat, downy buds, much like a magnolia, that
open to large clusters of white blossoms. Come September, the leaves turn a
comely mix of pale salmon pink and yellow, and I get to pick baskets of
fruit from the tree in my backyard. Shipova, the fruit, is similarly
attractive. Picture a small golden yellow pear two inches across with a red
blush on the sunny side. The meaty flesh is creamy white, with a lively
taste reminiscent of pear.
The shipova's only flaw is that it takes about seven years to begin bearing.
Otherwise, my tree has been totally undemanding, never requiring pruning or
The medlar (Mespilus germanica) is another tree I've planted as part of
research for a book about uncommon fruits. I waited only a couple of years
to pick my first crop. Although uncommon today, this small tree was popular
in the past. Charlemagne had medlars planted at his royal estates, and the
fruit was common in European markets as late as the 19th century.
Medlars resemble small russet apples, tinged a dull yellow or red, with a
flared base. After they ripen in the fall, medlars are placed in a cool room
for a few weeks, during which time the flesh softens to a brown mush. The
flavor is superb, refreshingly brisk like old-fashioned applesauce with winy
overtones and a dash of spice.
Although the medlar's fruit may be ugly, the tree is not. Each large white
or pinkish blossom is framed by a whorl of dark green leaves, which change
to rich shades of yellow, orange, and russet in the fall. Like the shipova,
the medlar is carefree.
Many people have tasted a beach plum - mostly in the form of jelly - but few
have planted one. In fact, beach plums (Prunus maritima) are not just for
jelly or for beach gardens. The bushes thrive in my yard in New Paltz, N.Y.,
far from the coast.
The beach plum straddles the fence between being a landscape plant and an
edible plant, generating enthusiasm on both sides but never coming into
general cultivation. Each spring, the sprawling stems are smothered in
fleecy white petals so profuse that in 1932 two scientists were able to plot
the distribution of wild stands by observing them from an airplane at bloom
Fruit quality, size, ripening period and color vary from plant to plant. The
best bushes bear fruits with a sweet plum flavor.
Another uncommon fruit worth growing is the maypop (Passiflora incarnata),
which looks and tastes like tropical passion fruit, the dominant flavor in
Hawaiian Punch. But the maypop vine is a cold-hardy species whose stems die
back each winter to perennial roots.
The maypop's white, lavender or blue flowers, two inches across with
bowl-shaped outer petals and a fringed inner crown, could easily steal the
show from its tasty fruits.
Maypop roots spread vigorously underground, so plant the vine where it can
be contained. My plants share a bed with a lilac bush, which they climb,
flowering through the summer.
The tiny, glossy evergreen leaves of the lingonberry (Vaccinium
vitis-idaea), a very low-growing shrub, blanket the ground, with urn-shaped,
pinkish blossoms in spring and again in summer. The pea-sized, bright red
berries that follow hang on the plants for a long time, well into winter,
bright spots in a gray season.
The lingonberry outshines its close relative, the Thanksgiving cranberry, in
a number of respects. Unlike sour cranberries, lingonberries have just
enough sweetness to be delicious right from the plant or mixed with morning
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