Autumn is finally here! With it comes a break from the heat of summer (in most places), a hint of crisp to the air and the bounty that is fall produce. Most people immediately think of squash, pumpkins, cranberries, sweet potatoes, turnips and maybe apples when they think about fall fruits and veggies: the hardy things people used to store in root cellars through the winter. But what about Brussels sprouts? Broccoli? Pears and pomegranates? All of these are in season in the fall, along with beets, endive, cauliflower, grapes, Swiss chard, bok choy, chicory, collard greens, eggplant, chili peppers, kale, leeks and lima beans – not all things most of us associate with fall.
That said, we did some informal polling and many people we talked to DID list apples and squash as their favorite fall produce! Apples, several varieties of squash and Brussels sprouts topped the list.
“As American as apple pie” is a saying for a reason: apples grow in all 50 U.S. states! They’re grown commercially in 36 states, with the top producers being Washington, New York and Michigan. We grow more than 2,500 varieties from sweet for snacking to crisp and tart for baking and every kind along the spectrum in between. (Interestingly, the first apple pie recipe was printed by no less a writer than Chaucer, in 1381, in England!)
Apples have no fat, sodium or cholesterol. They are high in fiber and a good source of vitamin C and B-6. Eat the peels! That’s where the fiber is.
For cooking, you want to use apples that are tart and crisp, that will hold up to heat without dissolving into mush and are able to withstand added sugar to thicken a filling without getting too sweet. Many people find those too tart for snacking; softer, sweeter apples like the Red Delicious fit the bill for that.
Apple cider is a delicious fall treat. And you can make your own! It’s actually really easy. Hard cider fans can find kits and recipes online to make that too. Apple recipes abound online, for everything from applesauce to apple crisp, pies, cakes and quick breads.
More popular than ever, Brussels sprouts have taken up residence on menus across the U.S. These tiny cabbage-looking vegetables grow on a stalk and are at their peak in the fall and through the winter. They’re especially delicious roasted – the high heat brings out their sugars mellows their bitterness.
They’re an excellent source of vitamins C and K and they’re rich in protein, folate, manganese, vitamins B1 and B6, fiber, iron, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids. They can lower cholesterol (especially if steamed – lightly!) and are said to prevent cancer.
Be careful when cooking Brussels sprouts with water or broth. It’s easy to make them soggy and mushy, which is why they’re best roasted or lightly steamed. Frozen ones can get mushy very quickly too, so be careful when cooking. Sweet or smoky seasonings are a nice offset to the bitterness of Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle them with balsamic vinegar or maple syrup, roast with bacon or pancetta or caramelize them with brown sugar!
Dozens of varieties of squash come into season in the fall: butternut, delicata, acorn, spaghetti, buttercup, Hubbard and many more. Pumpkins, of course, are a staple of the fall produce stand. All of these have their own unique characteristics despite being part of the same general family. Spaghetti squash separates into thin strands when cooked; delicata is considered best raw by many people. Most squash are delicious roasted, pureed into soups, mashed and used in pie fillings or quick breads.
In general, squash tend to be high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, manganese, and copper. Winter squash are a good source of vitamin B2 and B3, folate, pantothenic acid, vitamin K, potassium and magnesium.
Although many traditional American squash dishes involve sugar, such as roasting acorn squash with maple syrup and butter, many squash are delicious with savory flavors as well. Try tossing diced butternut squash with olive oil and garam masala, Cajun seasoning, chipotle chile powder and salt, or dried thyme, salt and pepper, then roasting. Spices and savory notes balance the natural sweetness of squash beautifully.
When it comes to fall produce, there’s a lot more variety than we imagine. Head to your nearest farmers’ market and check out the goodness for yourself!