When the air turns cool and the trees blaze with color, it's time to fill up your basket and taste the autumn harvest.
August 23, 2012
1 of 13Photo: Randy Mayor
Healthy Fall Produce
Autumn's bumper crop of fruits and vegetables offers a range of intense flavors and substantial textures. Grocery stores and farmers' markets are full of apples, figs, pears, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Here we'll give you tips and recipes for each of these favorite fall fruits and veggies.
2 of 13Photo: Gentl & Hyers
There are thousands of varieties of apples, ranging from tender to crisp and sweet to tart. Apples are available year-round, but they're best from September to November.
To select, look for firm, vibrantly colored apples with no bruises. They should smell fresh, not musty. Skins should be tight and smooth.
A quince is a hard, round or pear-shaped fruit that looks and tastes like a cross between an apple and pear. But, unlike the apples and pears they resemble, quinces are inedible raw. With cooking, quinces develop a slightly grainy texture similar to a firm pear and a lovely rosy amber color.
Because their season is fleeting—from October to December—you should get quinces while you can. Look for them in large supermarkets, farmers' markets, and specialty or ethnic stores. They'll fill an entire room with their enticing scent.
While most mushrooms are available year-round, many are at their peak in fall and winter.
To select, look for firm, evenly colored mushrooms. Avoid mushrooms that are broken, damaged, or have soft spots, as well as those that seem damp or smell of mildew. It's a good idea to hand-select mushrooms; choose those of equal size if they are to be cooked whole, so they'll cook evenly.
Winter squash are picked in the autumn and stored until spring. Some popular varieties are acorn, butternut, and spaghetti.
To select, the tastiest winter squashes will be solid and heavy with stems that are full, firm, and have a corky feel. The skin of the squash should be deeply colored with a matte finish. Avoid squash with cracks, soft spots, and moldy areas.
These petite onions look like large cloves of garlic covered with papery bronze skin. Shallots differ from onions in that many varieties produce a cluster of several bulbs to a plant; they also have finer layers and less water. Because of this low water content, their flavor is more concentrated than that of onions.
Available year-round, shallots should be firm and heavy for their size. Store them in a cool, dry place up to one month.
Sage's long, narrow leaves have a distinctly fuzzy texture and a musty flavor redolent of eucalyptus, cedar, lemon, and mint. There are some other varieties of sage that boast a slightly different flavor: purple, pineapple, peach, and honeydew melon.
Sage is available either fresh or in three dried forms: ground, coarsely crumbled, or rubbed (finely chopped). To store fresh sage leaves, simply wrap them in a damp paper towel, and place them in a plastic bag. Store them in the refrigerator, where they should keep fresh for several days.
The two most common types of sweet potatoes are pale-skinned and dark-skinned. The pale sweet potato has a thin, light yellow skin and a pale yellow flesh. After it's cooked, it has a dry, crumbly texture, much like that of a white baked potato, and its flavor is not sweet. The darker variety has a thicker skin and a bright orange flesh that's very sweet and moist when cooked.
To select, look for small to medium-sized tubers with few bruises and smooth skin.
Pears are sweet and spicy, with a subtle, intoxicating perfume. And although a pear is usually thought of as a fruit to be eaten in its natural state, it's actually as versatile as the apple, especially during its peak season.
To select, test for ripeness by applying light thumb pressure near the pear's stem. If it is ripe, there will be a slight give.
Members of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts range from 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Look for small, firm sprouts with compact, bright-green heads—the smaller the head, the sweeter the taste. Avoid soft, wilted, puffy, or dull-colored heads, as well as those with loose or yellowish leaves. Choose sprouts of similar size so they'll cook evenly.
This member of the cabbage family has a fairly round head of tightly packed white florets that are partially covered at the stem end with large, waxy, pale green leaves. Besides the white variety, you'll occassionally find a purple or greenish variety.
Choose a sturdy cauliflower that is compact; you want leaves that are crisp and green without signs of yellowing. The size of the head does not affect the quality.
You might have noticed that figs made an appearance on our Summer Produce Guide. That's because figs have two seasons: a quick, early summer season and then a main crop starting near the end of summer that continues through the fall.
To select, don't judge by looks alone. A shrunken and wrinkled fig may actually be a better choice than one that looks pristine. Small cracks won't affect the flavor. Also, ripe figs should be heavy for their size.