Fall is upon us! Leaving summer produce behind always feels bittersweet but we have a whole new crop to look forward to. The fall and winter months are full of food and celebration and many of those flavors come from fall produce. These days you can find an abundance of produce year-round at fairly decent prices, but I’m sharing a quick list of produce that is particularly flavorful and affordable when eaten in the fall/winter months. Foods eaten in their season will always be freshest, healthiest, most affordable and most flavorful!
These can grow anywhere with a moderate climate so you’ll notice that they are available year-round. However, the largest fruit-bearing season is in the fall so you see more variety and they become more affordable. When buying apples, choose ones with firm flesh and a tight skin, free of bruises, soft spots and holes. Smaller sized apples tend to be juicier and crisper and less mealy than larger apples. To ripen apples, keep them at room temperature. They can also be stored in the refrigerator for long periods of time.
If you’ve ever wondered, Brussels Sprouts ARE named after the capital of Belgium. They are grown from seeds and take 4 months for the first sprouts to be picked and eaten. They don’t grow well in the cold and only produce sprouts for 6 weeks. Small, compact and fresh sprouts with a bright green color will be the freshest and crispiest. They start to wilt about 5 days into refrigeration but any wilted outer leaves can be removed before preparing. My favorite way to eat Brussels Sprouts is steamed and then topped with a bit of butter and a sprinkle of salt or roasted in olive oil.
Cranberries are not the most popular fruit, unless they are sweetened! They are a bit tough and tart to eat raw but their flavor and sweetness intensifies when they are cooked or dried. They are typically found at the grocery store in packaged plastic bags or you can get them from farms where they are grown. Avoid buying those with brown spots. They should be round, red, shiny and firm.
All parts of the Fennel plant (seeds, leaves, bulb) are edible and have a mild licorice flavor. It’s a sturdy plant that thrives almost anywhere. Shelf-life is about a week when you choose one with a white, blemish free bulb and sweet-smelling leaves. I personally love to roast fennel with sweet potatoes… both aromatic and sweet, with different textures.
There are thousands of different varieties of grapes, which also vary in color, flavor, and usage. Some have seeds while others are seedless but regardless of what type, you’ll want to look for certain characteristics when buying. They should be uniform in color and firm to the touch. Store in the refrigerator for longest shelf life, as grapes can spoil within 3-5 days. They are also fantastic frozen!
When buying green beans you will want to avoid those with visible seeds or blemishes or too stiff. They should be bright green and snap easily when bent. Choose those in equal sizes for best cooking.
Pears, as you probably have experienced, have an ideal window of ripeness. They get sweeter as they ripen, so an unripe pear is very tough, crisp and not overly sweet. But if too ripe, they tend to get mushy and mealy. A perfectly ripe pear is one that has a slightly soft flesh around the stem. Leave them at room temperature to ripen and then refrigerate to keep fresh.
The Pomegranate gets its name from combining the French terms pome for apple and grenate for many-seeded. The seeds have been a symbol of fertility since biblical times and is one of the traditional lucky foods eaten on January 1st to welcome fertility for the coming year. When buying, the fruit should feel very heavy and plump, almost bursting, with a shiny skin. It can actually be refrigerated for up to 2 months or stored in a cool, dark place for a month.
Squash is available in many varieties, shapes and colors. Winter Squash and Summer Squash are the two main classifications, with winter having a hard shell and a thick rind. Winter squash varieties include acorn squash, banana squash, buttercup squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash. You’ll want to select one that is heavy for its size with a thick, hard shell. If stored in a cool, dark place, winter squash can last for several months.
Enjoy the benefits of including more fruits and vegetables in your meals with this new crop of produce!
Adapted from a blog post by: Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD
Some produce information taken from the Encylopedia of Foods: A Guide to Healthy Nutrition prepared by medical and nutrition experts from the Mayo Clinic, University of California Los Angeles and Dole Food Company, Inc.