Pick the Perfect Produce this Fall
by Kelly Merritt
The hallmarks of fall are engrained in our memories. The smell of a freshly opened notebook rushes us back to those first days of school. Crisp mornings send us rummaging through sweater drawers untouched all year. The obsession with all things pumpkin begins, as porches come alive with colorful gourds perched atop anything that stands still. Fall makes us long for hearth and home, a gathering time that honors the flavors of the season in bushels of pears and apples, figs and pomegranate.
Autumn is prime picking for stunning organic fruits and vegetables. And half the fun of rediscovering fall produce every year is rethinking ubiquitous ingredients to give old dishes new zing.
At the top of every fall produce shoppers list is butternut squash. At the market, look for squash that feels heavy and hard (bonus points if the stem is attached.) Tap, tap, tap – does it sound hollow? If yes, then it’s ripe. A health food superstar, butternut squash is low in calories and high in vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, plus it’s versatile and good for a lot more than soup. Just ask cookbook author, chef and James Beard Foundation finalist Jay Pierce.
“I love butternut squash roasted and puréed, with garam masala, cut into noodles on a spiralizer and made in the cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) preparation with brown butter and pecorino,” says Pierce. “You can also dice and cook it with boiled peanuts and sweet corn for an autumnal succotash.”
Another of Pierce’s preferred fall picks is persimmon. Persimmons provide lots of fiber, good carbs, vitamins including B6 and mineral manganese, plus the provitamin A beta-carotene.
“Slice persimmons in a salad with spinach and goat cheese and a Sherry vinaigrette or get enough North American persimmons to make Edna Lewis’s iconic persimmon pudding,” says Pierce. “I also use them as a barbecue glaze for pork.” Make way for beautiful beans in the fall.
Often overlooked for squash and leafy greens, October beans yield gorgeous pearly white and pink speckled beans. Chef Pierce’s secret to making any beans the star of a dish throughout fall is homemade chow chow, prepared with fresh leftover vegetables.
“Chop unripe vegetables and cook them down into a sweet-and-sour condiment with mustard seeds and turmeric to pair with autumnal beans,” he says.
Fall provides a chance to make healthier choices, including fruits and vegetables that fight inflammation and elevate mood. Make sure to add lots of savory, organic herbs and spices to your basket. Studies have proven those with rosmarinic acid such as found in rosemary and thyme have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention the bold flavor they add to autumn produce.
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and UDiet author LeeAnn Rawson advocates for picking fall produce that’s lower in oxalates, a crystal that binds to the minerals in the body. Studies show too much oxalates can contribute to kidney stones.
“Rule number one is to up the quantities of produce that make you feel good,” says Rawson. “I reach for cabbage, Brussels sprouts, fennel, Bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, yellow zucchini and squash.”
Consider preparation when shopping for fall produce – Rawson places root veggies under the broiler and uses avocado oil to cook them due to the higher heat point, versus olive oil which can become rancid at higher temperatures.
“Buy fall vegetables you can mix and match in a roasting pan and use olive oil to dress them after they are out of the oven for added flavor,” says Rawson. “Shop the market aware of what causes discomfort in the body and pick produce that helps combat aches and pains.”
Rawson likes purple kale, onions, radishes, ruttabegga, pumpkin, winter squashes and says keep the potatoes, including white potatoes and sweet potatoes, at a minimum.
5 Tips to Get the Most from the Market
- Become a savvy scavenger. Be on the lookout for colorful, unusual veggies that are unfamiliar.
- Sub out the usual suspect starches. Instead of potatoes, grab a bunch of parsnips for a fresh puree.
- Stock up for later. Buy now and freeze, can or pickle leftover produce. (Don’t forget to can enough pumpkin and squash for soups all season long.)
- Marry savory and sweet flavors into jams, like pear or fig with spices, nuts and a heady red wine.
- Mix it up: can a bevy of different beans together and flavor with onion, vinegar and spices for garnish throughout the year.
Now is the time to take advantage of the wonderful fall bounty waiting at your local health food store or green market.