Happy harvest season! Why would anyone want to buy supermarket produce from thousands of miles away when your local farmers are pulling such wonderful fruits and vegetables out of the ground? Skip the lifeless, sterile grocery store...head to the farmers market for some of the year’s most colorful, long-awaited seasonal food. Sweet corn...sugar pumpkins...apples...need we say more?
(Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Creative Commons via Flickr)
If there’s a culinary symbol of this season, it’s the pumpkin. Don’t carve up sugar pumpkins, though, as they’re much better in soups, breads and pies than as jack o’lanterns with wicked, toothy smiles. When stored in a cool, dry place (at 40 to 50 degrees), pumpkins can last for several weeks or months. But remember to put them in the fridge if you cut into them.
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Really, this cool-weather green is more akin to a turnip than its cousin broccoli, but don’t let the slight bitterness throw you off. While some people may prefer to eat it raw or by itself, broccoli rabe is also wonderful tossed with an orzo salad, sun-dried tomatoes, or garlic and anchovies.
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Despite the fact that severe drought turned 2012 into a historically bad year for corn in many places, the tall cereal grain is still one of our iconic fall vegetables. Sweet corn, aptly named for its higher sugar content, is unmatched in taste, especially when roasted over an open flame and eaten on the cob. To prevent many of its sugars from turning into starches, corn should be eaten fairly quickly after purchase.
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Apple season doesn’t mean you must settle for the four or five varieties of apples you see in the supermarket, which are chosen for their ability to pack well and travel thousands of miles. Instead, head to your farmers market, where your local apple farmer will likely have a handful of tasty apple varieties (there are hundreds!) that are new to you. And this year, remember to go early and bring a bit more cash than usual: The drought has reduced the crop, made the apples ripen early, and driven up prices.
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Did you know that Down Under, butternut squash is known as butternut pumpkin? It makes sense, since its sweet, nutty taste (and orange, fleshy pulp) is similar to that of a pumpkin. Serving it oven-baked with brown sugar and cinnamon is a fall favorite for many.
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What cauliflower lacks in chlorophyll it makes up for in nutrients and adaptability. Thrown in a food processor, cauliflower makes a believable—and far healthier—substitute for mashed potatoes or white rice. Although people generally only eat the heads of the cauliflower (known as the curds), the stem and leaves are also edible and can be used to add some extra flavor to those fall soup stocks we all love.
(Photo: Nick Saltmarsh/Creative Commons via Flickr)
Often sold as “yams,” sweet potatoes are now more widely recognized as the nutritional superior to their brown or gray counterparts. And boy, are they tasty! They are incredible baked with a smidge of butter and salt and pepper, or even roasted and cut up in a fresh salad.
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Brussels sprouts are finally getting some more respect. Ever the brunt of a “disgusting food” joke, they have seen a bit of a resurgence as Americans discover—or rediscover—how good they can be when not cooked from a bag or served soggy. Snatch them up at the market if you see them, especially if they’re still on the stalk, because they’ll last longer that way. Roast them, steam them, pair them with mushrooms, or add them to pasta; however you prefer your sprouts, give them a second chance.
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A relatively tasteless (yet substantive) vegetable, cabbage is an amazing filler for pasta and rice dishes and soups, but can also be cooked with bacon or ham. This is also the season when canners like to use their cabbage to make tasty sauerkraut. When picking out cabbage at the market, look for heads that are large and compact (not fluffy), heavy for their size, and with tender green leaves showing no evidence of damage or insect nibbles.
(Photo: Lori L. Stalteri/Creative Commons via Flickr)
Steve's story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011 His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places.Email Steve | @thebostonwriter | TakePart.com