Everything has its season, and during the fall, there are many yummy fruits and vegetables to take advantage of while they are at their peak. The first step is to know what’s in season in your area. Don’t rely on general lists because the weather is different throughout the United States. Different foods flourish in different areas. My favorite resource is Epicurious’s Seasonal Ingredient Map, which lists each of the fifty states and the food that is in season for that month. I check it every week to refresh my memory before making my meal plan.
Once you know what fruits and veggies to be on the lookout for, you need to know how to pick the best of the bunch! Here are a few tips for picking out some common Fall fruits and veggies.
The average size is one to three pounds. Don’t go larger, or you could get dry, stringy squash. Look for smooth rind with a mixture of dull green and orange coloring. The orange color is a sign of maturity. A little is a good thing, but too much means it’s overripe. If the skin is shiny, it was picked before it matured or the producer applied wax. Either way, you’ll want to avoid it. These squash can keep for up to two months!
Recipe to Try: Vegetarian Chili
The best apples are firm with a smooth skin. Look out for bruises and scrapes, but you can ignore those brown-colored areas that sometimes appear. Scald, as it is known, does not effect the flavor. Also, take a whiff. You want an apple that smells fresh not musty.
Recipe to Try: Organic Tarte Tatin
For cauliflower, tightly-packed florets are best. Avoid cauliflower that looks like it’s on the verge of falling apart. Also, pay attention to the coloring. You want a fresh white hue with no yellow spots.
Recipe to Try: Curried Cauliflower
It’s particularly important to buy fresh figs because their shelf life is short. They only last between 7 and 10 days from the harvesting. Look for a smooth, unbroken skin. The fig should be clean, dry, and soft – but not mushy.
Recipe to Try: Organic Figs, Melon, Prosciutto, and Salami
For grapes, you’re looking for plump and brightly colored. You want a yellowish color for green grapes, a crimson color for red grapes, and a dark, almost black floor for blue grapes. Avoid wrinkly or sticky grapes, and pay attention to the stems, which should be moist, flexible, and firmly attached to the grapes.
Recipe to Try: Basil, Grape and Plum Goat Cheese Pizza
Selecting the best mushrooms depends on the specific type you are purchasing, but generally, you want to look for firm texture, even color, and tightly-closed caps. If you can see gills, that may be a sign of age. Avoid mushrooms that are discolored, damaged, or dried out. To keep them fresh, store them in a paper bag.
Recipe to Try: Crab and Mushroom Chowder
Those large parsnips look impressive, but they often have a bitter core. Instead, opt for the small to medium-sized ones. Look for firm, evenly-colored skin. Avoid soft or dark spots which could be caused by decay or freezer-burn.
Recipe to Try: Winter Roasted Organic Veggies
Picking a pumpkin to eat is different from picking a pumpkin to carve. Size is not the goal. You want a smaller pumpkin which is more likely to be tender and packed full of flavor. Like the squash, a shiny skin means it was picked too soon or waxed by the producer. Look for a tough skin with a dull finish. Ideally, you want one that can’t be scratched by your fingernail.
Recipe to Try: Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Look for tight, unwrinkled skin. If you see a bruise, avoid it! You can’t simply cut out the bad part because it will affect the flavor of the entire potato, and bruised potatoes tend to deteriorate more quickly.
Recipe to Try: Citrus-Ginger Chicken with Root Vegetables
Photo Credit: Clay Irving