Ever think of how odd it is that the produce in our markets looks the same, whether it’s August or December? That you can buy a pineapple or a cantaloupe in the middle of a snowstorm? Why eat foods that aren’t in season when you could be enjoying not only the most nutritious but also the most delicious foods the season has to offer?
It took me a while to get hip to this. ‘A strawberry is a strawberry,’ I used to think. But as I cleaned up my menu, my taste buds became more sophisticated and my tastes became more discriminating, it became to clear: a strawberry from the local farms near my New York City home in July is a far superior fruit to the strawberries that get trucked in around Christmas time. Far less expensive, too!
When produce arrives on our shelves from hundreds and thousands of miles away, it’s been picked and shipped long before its harvest time. And more likely than not, it’s also been treated with waxes, dyes and preservatives so it looks “fresh.”
Food tastes the most delicious when it’s plucked just as it ripens, and you’re most likely to get produce at its peak when you buy what’s grown near where you live. Fresh fruits and vegetables harvested and distributed at their peak also have the highest nutritional content – that means more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for you!
For centuries, we’ve known about the health benefits of eating what’s in season – Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic and macrobiotic diets all spotlight seasonal eating. We may not have a freezer chest, and we probably aren’t going to start canning. But we can make a point to buy locally and plan our menus by what’s being harvested at the farms nearest us. Besides, you pay less for foods in season and you help contributing to sustainable agriculture.
Here are eight foods that you’ll want to savor at the top of fall – when they’re in season and at their very best:
Whether you like a classic Red Delicious, an intensely sweet Fuji or a tart Granny Smith, you’re certain to find this anti-oxidant boost in its prime.
Chop it. Shred it. Eat it whole. However you have it, indulge in this sweet and nutty beta-carotene blast - a great addition to stews and casseroles.
Savory and saccharine, figs are in season through October and an earthy addition to pies, salads and purees. They have the highest fiber and mineral content of all common fruits, nuts or vegetables.
Whether in juices, jellies, jams or plucked from the vine, grapes lend a crisp sweetness reminiscent of summer. One cup of grapes, at about 100 calories, meets more than a quarter of your daily needs of vitamins K and C. They’re high in sugar, so eat in moderation.
This sturdy green stands out in the fall. It’s in season through December but stock up and enjoy now – seared, wilted or baked. Kale is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and in phytonutrients.
This crisp and subtly sweet fruit is perfect in everything from salads to cocktails. Because they’re high in fiber and have a low glycemic index, pears are an intelligent snack for those with diabetes.
Artificially pumpkin-flavored everything is in this fall, but try to use the real deal. Tart but nutty, pumpkin can be used in pies, chutneys and even muffins. (And the best ones for cooking aren’t those jack-o-lantern porch beauties; ask your produce expert to steer you to the right ones for cooking.) Pumpkins are loaded with vitamin A and fiber, and are low in calories.
You can find squash in season by early November, so snatch them up to use in casseroles, stews and even burritos. Squash is full of antioxidants.
Explore your community listings for farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture programs, where you can get weekly deliveries of seasonal produce. For New Yorkers, here’s where you can find your local CSA.
Here you’ll find farmers’ markets and a handy guide of what’s in season each month.
What's your favorite fall produce?