Autumn has long been associated with the transition from warm to cold weather, the primary harvest has dominated its themes and popular images throughout the world. For many of us, especially here in the States, the smell of freshly made donuts, watching through the window while cider is being fresh pressed, and folks starting to get that wistful look in their eyes as they start to glimpse the hint of Thanksgiving and Christmas just over the horizon, is a childhood memory that brings warm thoughts of family and friends. We’re sure many of you can remember returning home from the farmers market with arms full of fresh produce, apples, cider, fresh donuts, placing our pumpkins on the front stoop to await their fateful appointment with the carving knife that would soon transform them into the Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween night. The cooling of the nights, the touch of color in the leaves and the anticipation of the coming holiday season always gives the air clarity, as if shaking off the haze of summer.
In keeping with the fact that everyone loves a good list, we thought we’d give you a great rundown of the some of the abundance of autumn produce and ingredients that are available, or coming available, in this coming autumn season.
There are thousands (7500) of varieties of apples, ranging from tender to crisp to sweet to tart. Apples are available year-round, but they’re best from September to November. Apples contain phytonutrients which can help you regulate your blood sugar. Eaten raw, or used as a great addition to any cheese board, baked alone, or used in a pie, they are healthy and delicious. Apples were brought to North America by colonists in the 17th century, and the first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625. The only apples native to North America are crab apples, which were once called “common apples.” All other varieties were brought here from Europe.
Celery Root (Celeriac)
Celery root, also known as celeriac, is the root of the celery plant. It is often available year-round, especially in temperate climates, but is at its best in the cooler months of fall, winter, and early spring (except in cold climates, where you’ll find it during the summer and early fall). Freshly harvested celery root is sometimes sold with the stalks and leaves still attached, as pictured here. It is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to celery stalks. It can be roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed. Sliced celeriac occurs as an ingredient in soups, casseroles, and other savory dishes.
In Europe, Asia and Africa, chestnuts are often used as an everyday potato substitute. Although they are wonderful straight from the oven or fireplace, you can make use of the winter chestnut crop in many ways, both sweet and savory. Before trying one of the many chestnut recipes, learn about chestnut history and how to store them. Probably one of the first foods eaten by man, the chestnut dates back to prehistoric times. The majority of the chestnut trees currently found in America are of native European stock, but Native Americans feasted on America’s own variety, Castanea dentata, long before European immigrants introduced their stock to America. Today, most of the chestnut food crop is imported from Japan, China, Spain, and Italy. Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. Chestnuts contain twice as much starch as potatoes. It is no wonder they are still an important food crop in China, Japan, and southern Europe, where they are often ground into a meal for bread-making, thus giving rise to the nickname of “bread tree.”
95% of all cranberries are used as to make juice. The remaining 5% is used to make sauce, compotes and jellies. They are a a major commercial crop in the U.S. with Wisconsin the leading producer of cranberries, with over half of U.S. production. Massachusetts is the second largest U.S. producer. Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. This is usually in September through the first part of November. To harvest cranberries, the beds are flooded as we’ve all seen from the TV commercials, with six to eight inches of water above the vines. A harvester is the driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines. Although most cranberries are wet-picked, 5–10% of the US crop is still dry-picked. Labor costs are higher and yield is much less, but dry-picked berries are less bruised and are usually the ones sold at your favorite farmers market or fresh fruit stand.
Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, which grow in the desert. Harvested between September and March In the US they are grown in Arizona and California. They have a sweet, caramel-like taste and soft texture. Farmers markets may have fresh dates in season, but they are also available mail order from some growers and can usually be found at Middle Eastern markets.
Fennel has a light anise, or licorice, flavor. Crisp and refreshing when raw, but melts into a savory sweetness when slowly cooked. The tall green stalks look like celery with wispy dill-like leaves at the top. The stalks grow from a white onion-like bulb. All parts are edible, although the mild, tender bulb is most commonly used and served and is most associated with Italian cooking. It is often available year-round, but is at its best during its natural season from fall through early spring.
Hazelnuts are used in confectionery to make some pralines, in chocolate for some chocolate truffles, and in hazelnut paste products. They are rich in protein and unsaturated fat and contain significant amounts of thiamine and vitamin B6, as well as smaller amounts of other B vitamins. In season primarily in October, the majority if not all the hazelnuts available in the US come from Oregon. In Austria, hazelnut paste is an ingredient in the making of tortes(such as Viennese hazelnut torte). In Kiev cake, hazelnut flour is used to flavor its meringue body, and crushed hazelnuts are sprinkled over its sides. Dacquoise, is a French dessert cake, and often contains a layer of hazelnut meringue and is also a primary ingredient of the vodka-based liqueur frangelico. Over 2,000 tons are imported annually into Australia, mostly to supply the demand from the Cadbury-Schweppes company. Hazelnut oil pressed from hazelnuts is strongly flavored and used as a cooking oil.
There are over two thousand types of mushrooms, but only 2 ½ – 5 % are edible. Though you can usually get mushrooms all year round they are at their peak in fall and winter. Always look for mushrooms that are firm, not broken and avoid those that seem damp or smell of mildew. There are many varieties available, from Shitake to Crimini, to Portabello and more exotic varieties like the Black Chanterelle.
The pear is native to coastal and mildly temperate regions of the Old World, from western Europe and north Africa east right across Asia. Most of North American pears are grown in Oregon and Washington, and the harvest months listed here reflect that. Pears have no cholesterol, sodium, or saturated fat. They offer a natural, quick source of energy, due largely to high amounts of fructose and glucose, plus Levulose, the sweetest of known natural sugars, found to a greater extent in fresh pears than in any other fruit. Great raw, on cheeseboards, and poached.
Freshly frozen garden peas and petits pois are frozen within just two and a half-hours of being picked. Peas are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, thiamine (B1), iron and phosphorus. They are rich in protein, carbohydrate and fibre and low in fat which is mostly of the unsaturated kind. The less water you use when cooking peas, the less vitamin C is lost. Steaming helps to conserve this vitamin.
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin producing states in the U.S. include Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Pumpkins are a warm weather crop that are usually planted in early July. When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. Often, it is made into various kinds of pie which is a traditional staple of the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holiday. Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as the vegetable marrow/zucchini. Pumpkins can also be eaten mashed or incorporated into soup.
A quince is a hard, round or pear-shaped fruit. It looks and tastes like a cross between an apple and pear. Unlike apples and pears though, quinces are inedible raw. When cooked, quinces develop a slightly grainy texture similar to a firm pear and develop a rosy amber color. Their season is very brief, from October to December, so be sure to get them when you see them. Quince is a great side for duck and other game meats. You can use it as a paste on cheese boards, compote, poach it and also tarte tatin.
Once prized for its medicinal value, the most popular use of sage these days is in stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey. In ancient Rome, it was considered to have substantial healing properties, particularly helpful in the digestion of the ubiquitous fatty meats of the time, and was deemed a part of the official Roman pharmacopeia. Sage has been used effectively for throat infections, dental abscesses, infected gums and mouth ulcers. Great when used with game meats.
The term “summer” and “winter” for squash are only based on current usage, not on actuality. “Summer” types are on the market all winter; and “winter” types are on the markets in the late summer and fall, as well as winter.
This winter squash is shaped like an acorn. Great for baking. A small acorn squash weighs from 1 to 3 pounds, and has sweet, slightly fibrous flesh. In addition to the dark green acorn, there are now golden and multi-colored varieties.
Beige colored and shaped like a vase, this is a more watery squash and tastes somewhat similar to sweet potatoes. It has a bulbous end and pale, creamy skin, with a choice, fine-textured, deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor. It weighs from 2 to 5 pounds. The more orange the color, the riper, drier and sweeter the squash.
A small, watermelon-shaped variety, ranges in size from 2 to 5 pounds or more. It has a golden-yellow, oval rind and a mild, nut-like flavor. When cooked, the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti. The most yellow squash will be the ripest and best to eat. Those that are nearly white are not very ripe. Spaghetti squash also freezes well.
Think outside the box when setting up your weekly menus and try different ingredients and techniques. You’ll be glad you did and it’s always great to get the family to try new things and expand their palette.
Doug Keiles is the self-proclaimed Bacon Guru and all natural seasonings purveyor extraordinaire. He is Pit Master of the Grand Champion winning competition BBQ Team Ribs Within, TV cooking personality and a featured writer on BBQ/Grilling. Doug’s love of competition cooking is only equal to his love of his family and crafting his own bacon. Doug started as a backyard cooker making ribs that friends would clammer for day and night. His gutsy confrontation of bringing ribs to a local operation of Famous Dave’s Barbeque in 2002 introduced him to the competitive BBQ cooking circuit.
From his first contest in July 2003, he learned from those around him and he was instantly addicted. He wanted to stand out from the other competitors and started mixing commercial rubs to hone his distinct flavor. In 2006 RUB-4-All his signature seasoning was born. Over the last 11 seasons, Doug hand crafted, field tested and brought 9 more seasonings and salts to the public. These seasonings have brought Doug # Grand Championships in Grilling and # in KCBS Sanctioned BBQ contests.
He was known has the “Hippie Chef” on Twitter during his National TV Appearance as one of the top 16 Grillers on Chopped Grill Masters in August 2012, losing in the dessert round to the eventual Champion of the Event. He proudly sponsors and mentors BBQ teams across the country via his seasonings, inspiring them with “You got to rub it to win it”. This intense and favorable TV experience reinforced Doug’s passion and commitment to his grilling and BBQ.
In August 2013 his First Place Bacon entry at Hudson Valley Grilling & BBQ Contest earned him entry to the World Food Championships – Bacon division where he placed 2nd in the World. Inspired by this event, Doug was encouraged to seek USDA Approval for his own line of bacon. Effective May 2014 his RIBS WITHIN Uncured Slab Bacon was approved for commercial sale. You can purchase it at Tender Lovin’ Grill in Hillsborough, NJ or online at www.ribswithin.com.
“There is nothing better than presenting straight forward, in your face, all natural and flavorful food”, Doug states as he was interviewed as a Featured Alumni of Rutgers University in their June Alumni quarterly bulletin. You can find Doug sharing his recipes and love of cooking as one of the featured writers in recently published, nationally available Barbecue America magazine. For more information on Doug’s line of Ribs Within Seasonings and to see him live at events go to www.bacon.guru or www.ribswithin.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter @RibsWithinBBQ and Instagram #Dougie_Bacon.
Courtesy of Doug Keiles
“BBQ, even done perfectly, can still have a lot of fat. It calls out for sweet and savory side. This dish is my twist on southern greens. Bok Choy is lighter and really stands up to the vinegar. I usually make a lot at once, since it boils down and can last a while in the fridge.”
Ingredients: Makes about 10 servings
3-4 lbs Baby Bok Choy
3-4 cups Vinegar
1 cup Apple juice or cider
1 cup Water
2 tablespoon BBQ Rub (I use Ribs Within Rubs)
2+ tablespoon Hot Salt (I use Ribs Within HOT SALT but to make yourself combine 1 tsp hot chili powder and 1 tsp table salt.)
Wash Bok Choy really well. Then starting at the white end, chop in ½” to ¾” slices until you get to the leaves. Separate the stalks and the leaves into 2 piles. (Easier to do while chopping). Chop leaves in ½” strips. In a large pot, put 1 cup of water and turn to medium high. When the water is hot, add the stalk (white) parts of the bok choy into the water. Add 1 cup of vinegar and a teaspoon of hot salt. Stir to mix around the liquid. After 5 minutes (or the stalks are starting to soften), add bbq rub. Add in all of the leaves, then the apple juice, Hot Salt and 1 cup of vinegar and stir. Cook for 10 min and taste the liquid – it should be tangy and sweetish, add more vinegar for more tang). More rub or salt or vinegar can be added to taste. Cook an additional 20-30 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the leaves breakdown. Let stand 15-20 minutes to continue to breakdown and absorb the liquid. Serve in a large bowl. With tongs. Can be served cold, room temp, or warm
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