Summer Swan Song
It seems counterintuitive, I know, to bring before you a very summery looking dessert in November when such refreshing fruits as kiwi should be long out of season. But I have a little trick up my sleeve. The kiwis in this dish are not your ordinary fuzzy green fruit.
Nope. They are hardy Actinidia arguta, a variety of kiwi native to China that grows quite readily here in Pennsylvania. These particular kiwi are only the size of large grapes and grow on woody vines also similar to those of grapes. Plants are usually dioecious, meaning you need a male and a female plant growing together to get any fruit, although there are one or two varieties that contain both male and female flowers on the same plant. But perhaps that’s more information than you really need at the moment.
What you do need to know is that these dwarf versions taste pretty much identical to their larger cousins grown in the tropics, with one or two advantages. First, you can get these locally grown, which is always a huge plus. Second, their skin is smooth and thin so you don’t have to peel them. I personally adore the large fuzzy kiwis but always found peeling them a bit intimidating since their stem end is always tough to cut through cleanly, often leaving me with kiwi mush instead of nice neat slices.
This season was my first encounter with hardy kiwis, although I’ve known about them for awhile, and this particular vine isn’t one I’m growing myself. Believe me, after tasting these lovelies, I’m keen to get my own vines. What I think I like best about them is when they come into season: late fall. I equate kiwis with the soft fruits of summer, such as raspberries and strawberries. Just when you think the pleasures of summer are long gone on the chill of autumn days, a reprieve comes in the form of juicy little hardy kiwis.
I started checking these vines in early October, getting a few fruit to test at a time. I found they climaxed right around the first frost (mid-October) and slowly dwindled – perhaps in part to my persistent picking – to the final few worth gathering here last week. It’s best to pick them when they are still very firm to the touch and let them ripen on the kitchen counter. You can store them for several weeks in the fridge if you pick them under ripe and then ripen them at room temperature when you are ready to use them. The way to pick a ripe hardy kiwi is just the same as the way to pick a regular ripe kiwi: press it gently in your hand and if it is springy but not mushy, it’s perfect. I found that the later the stayed on the vine, the more of a red color they got on their skins but the red is not necessary for them to be ripe.
So, now that you know how to pick up the right pint of hardy kiwis at your farmers market or from a gracious neighbor’s vines, let’s talk about interesting ways to use them. They were scrumptious in yogurt with the last of my fresh ground cherries or as an after-work snack (these things are like candy, be forewarned). But this fun little recipe I threw together for Kiwi and Lemon Curd Tarts with a sugar cookie crust was a great way to serve up the delicate and beautiful slices of their emerald flesh.
Kiwi & Lemon Curd Tarts
A Straight from the Farm original
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pint ripe hardy kiwis, washed, dried and thinly sliced
2/3 C. lemon curd
Whipped cream (optional)
Prepared the dough for the crust: Mix granulated sugar, powdered sugar, butter, and cooking oil together. Add eggs, mix again. Add flour, cream of tartar, vanilla, and baking soda mix together. Take about a golf-ball sized amount of dough and press into the bottom and up the edges of small tart forms or a muffin tin, being sure to keep the dough very thin.
Bake in oven at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly brown. Dough will puff up so when you remove it from the oven, drop it hard on the counter to deflate the dough. If it’s still too puffy, while the dough is still warm, press lightly on it with the back of a spoon.
Loosen edges of tarts with a sharp thin knife before dumping the shells on a dish towel to cool completely.
When you are ready to serve the tarts, spread one tablespoon of lemon curd in the bottom of each tart shell. If using, top with a tablespoon of whipped cream. Finally, layer thin slices of hardy kiwi on top and serve within the day. If you want to prepare tarts ahead, the tart shells will keep for up to a week in an air-tight container.
(makes approximately 18 tarts)