These Are The Best Winter Fruits In Your Area

We rounded up the locally available crops across the country, plus favorite ways to cook with them.

December 4, 2017
winter fruit guide
ILLUSTRATION BY STEPHEN WILDISH

When you think of cold-weather foods, hearty stews, pot roasts, and root veggies probably come to mind—not fresh produce. But certain fruits actually reach their peak once temperatures dip. 

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

apples
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Apples

Take a bite out of a Pink Princess, Pixie Crunch, or Scarlett Surprise—they’re not the names of Disney characters, they’re apple breeds.

While the season runs from September to October, these crispy, crunchy fruits are available in cold storage during the winter throughout the Northeast, Northwest, and Midwest. (The U.S. is the second leading producer of apples in the world, after China, and 60 percent of apples consumed in America come from the state of Washington.) You can find them in farmers’ markets and at the grocery store—just be sure to spring for the organic kind, since they top the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list of the most pesticide-laden produce.

How to prepare them? While apple crispsauce, and pie are no-brainers, why not get a little more exotic by whipping up a beet-apple soup or roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and bacon.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Always Buy Organic Apples

pears
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Pears

When it comes to pears, there’s something for everyone—from the crisp, crunchy bosc and Asian varieties to the sweet and juicy anjous and bartletts. They’re grown throughout the country, but the Northwest dominates pear production.

And even though the season stretches from late summer through fall, thanks to cold storage, you can snag them at greenmarkets or the grocery store even in the dead of winter. For a cozy dessert on a blustery day, dig into poached pears with star anise

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oranges
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Oranges

Ever wonder why oranges are a classic Christmas stocking stuffer? Not only were they considered a scarce treat at the turn of the century, but legend has it that Saint Nicholas once placed three gold balls in the stockings of a poor family in order to help them make ends meet—and oranges are a more affordable representation of those gilded orbs.

Although the term “Florida oranges” is ubiquitous, most of the fruit we eat actually comes from out West, whereas Florida is the biggest producer of orange juice. Depending on location and variety, the season spans from mid-fall through early spring—get them at farmers’ markets, the supermarket, or your backyard, if you’re so lucky. Then use them to add tangy flavor to everything from roast chicken to cupcakes.

Related: 7 New Ways To Use Oranges This Winter

pomegranate
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Pomegranates

Not only do their gem-like seeds add festive sparkle to holiday dishes like spritzers and salads, but they’re also antioxidant powerhouses. If you live out West, scour farmer’s markets and grocery stores for the local crop from September through December.

Here's the easy way to get all of the seeds out of a pomegranate:

clementines
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Clementines

Small, easy-to-peel, seedless, sweet, and juicy—what more could you ask for?

Hailing from California, the Southwest, and Southeast, a box of clementines has become a wintertime staple in kitchens across the country. During the growing season (late October through February), snag them at the market or pick-your-own orchards.

Although they’re pretty much the world’s perfect snack food, they’ll also do a bang-up job of jazzing up a tart or adding delicate flavor to a panna cotta.

 
 
lemons
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Lemons

It’s time to get your citrus fix! In the Southwest and California, lemons are in season from November to March, so you can score them at farmers’ markets in addition to the grocery store.

Looking for a new way to eat this tart fruit, beyond lemon bars and squeezed on top of fish? Try your hand at a creamy lemon curd you can spread onto bread or pancakes, mix into yogurt, or use as a filling for desserts. 

Related: How To Make Your Own Preserved Lemons

limes
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Limes

From late summer to early spring you can find limes at farmers’ markets and grocery stores in Florida. (Hint: Look for yellowy limes, as opposed to super green ones. They lighten as they ripen, getting juicier and sweeter.)

While they typically have a starring role in summer hits like margaritas and ceviche, they can also be used in comfort foods to amazing effect. Case in point: This warming Mexican chicken-lime soup that you’ll want to live off of all season long.

Related: 7 Incredible Uses For Limes Outside Of Cocktail Hour

tangerines
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Tangerines

Now is the prime time to chow down on these sunshine-hued fruits. From mid-fall through mid-winter, tangerines are at their peak in the Southwest.

Reasons to fall in love: They’re a sweeter, easier-to-peel take on oranges, and you can separate them into segments without any fuss. Just like oranges, they’re equally yummy in sweet and savory dishes, so bake them into muffins, or toss them into a salad.

Related: How To Make Candied Citrus Peels

 
 
mandarin tree
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Satsumas

Thanks to their tender, plump-to-bursting flesh, satsumas stand apart from the citrus crowd. Since they have a short growth window (they first appear around Thanksgiving and last just through the holidays), take advantage by snapping them up the second you spot them at the farmers’ market or store.

Or plan a pick-your-own outing if you’re local—these golden beauties grow in the West and Southeast. Then, juice them into a holiday cocktail, use the zest in a cheesecake, or chop and toss into a stir-fry.

grapefruit
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Grapefruit

There’s plenty to love about grapefruits (which got their name because they grow in bunches, similar to grapes). Not only does half a Ruby Red fulfill the daily recommended intake of vitamin C, but they’re one of the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15, so there’s no need to stress if you can’t find organic.

Floridians can find them growing locally beginning in November, but the peak season doesn’t hit until January. Translation: Whether you’re picking it yourself or shopping at a green market or grocery store, this is when you’ll score the sweetest fruit.

Try it as a main course garnish, like in this chicken with grapefruit dish, or juice it for homemade grapefruit soda

strawberries
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Strawberries

Strawberries may scream summer, but in southern California and Hawaii, they’re at their best during the chilly stretch of late December to early January. You can either DIY by picking them at a farm, or simply buy them at the store or greenmarket.

Heads up: Although these heart-shaped berries smell as sweet as they taste (after all, they’re a member of the rose family), they’re No. 4 on the dirty dozen list, so stick to organic. A fast, fresh dessert is to sprinkle sliced strawberries with sugar and balsamic vinegar. Or for a more outside-the-box idea, try mixing strawberries into salsa for a spicy-sweet topping.

 
 
cranberries
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Cranberries

From mid-September to early December, they’re harvested in the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest.

Since cranberries (along with blueberries and concord grapes) are one of only three commercially grown fruits that are native to the U.S., you can forage for them in the wild—check out bogs or moist soil in sunny, open areas near ponds or lakes.

Wondering what you can do with these sour berries other than turn them into everyone’s favorite turkey accompaniment? Toss a handful of dried cranberries into desserts like crisps and pies for extra kick, or serve Swedish meatballs alongside cranberry jelly.

Related: 25 Spectacular Cranberry Recipes You Can Eat All Year Round

quince
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Quince

They may look lumpy and bumpy, not to mention that they’re virtually inedible when raw—but once you cook quince, they turn into a sumptuous, lip-smacking delicacy. It’s no wonder they’re making a comeback at the hottest restaurants around the country.

Want in? The funny-looking fruit are notoriously tricky to find, but during the Northwestern growing season from September through December, you might be able to nab local quince at farmers’ markets and specialty stores, or forage for them in the wild.

Then make quince paste, slice it and steep it into Korean mogwa-cha tea, turn it into a chutney to top off pork or duck, or try our pear-quince sorbet.

Related: 7 Unique Winter Fruits You Aren't Eating But Probably Should

avocados
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Avocados

Hass avocados grow year-round in the West, and from October through December, Choquettes (a larger, watery variety) peak in Florida.

This winter, look beyond the chips and dip: Avocados add amazing creaminess to a risotto, soup, or smoothies—plus they can stand in for butter or cream in desserts like brownies and pudding. And we’re kind of obsessed with this avocado-caesar salad.

Related: Why You Should Eat More Avocados