Fall at the Market

Source: Sharilyn Hovind

Embrace fall by taking a walk in the newly crisp air and notice the changes around you: leaves beginning to turn, different smells as summer plants fade away, a new cast of light in the sky. Then swing by a farmers’ market or roadside stand and choose a basketful of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables—the perfect ingredients for a hearty fall meal.

Apples: Apples are a wonderful way to welcome fall. Be sure to buy organic apples because apples have been dubbed as one of the “Dirty Dozen” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which means they are one of the fruits and vegetables that hold the highest amount of pesticide residue. Many farmers also sell fresh-pressed cider, chutneys, and other apple products. Look for firm apples without bruising or nicks: the sweeter varieties for eating as is, the tart ones for pies, crisps, and applesauce. If not eating right away, refrigerate in plastic bags for up to two months, or store in a cool dark place such as a cellar. Make a delicious fall salad with sliced apple, crisp lettuce, chopped green onions, walnut or pecan pieces, and dots of soft goat cheese, tossed with an apple cider vinaigrette.

Grapes: Wonderful as a snack or part of a simple baguette-and-cheese lunch, grapes are sweet and refreshing. Many varieties are available in later summer through fall. Choose plump, unblemished fruit; a hazy white film on the skin is a good sign. To store, place unwashed grapes on a paper towel in a perforated plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a week. When ready to eat, rinse in cool water.

Chile Peppers: Generally available through November, chiles can bring the warmth of summer to cold-weather dishes. Find shiny, firm, well-shaped peppers that feel heavy in the hand. Dried chile peppers should be glossy and unbroken. Store fresh peppers, unwashed, in a cool place—avoid putting them in the refrigerator, which will ruin their flavor. When ready to use, wash the chiles, then, wearing plastic gloves, stem and seed them, and slice as necessary for your recipe. Discard the gloves and wash your hands to remove any hot capsaicin residue. To soften dried chile peppers, soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes. Chile peppers vary widely in heat, even within varieties—your best bet is to ask the farmer. In general, though, hot serranos are excellent in fresh salsas; New Mexican chiles, sometimes called Anaheims, range from mild to medium-hot; habaneros are very hot and fruity tasting. Jalapeños are hot; sun-dried, they are called chipotles. Poblano chiles are best for chiles rellenos; dried, they are called anchos.

Onions: By the beginning of fall, onions are mature with papery skins and ready for storage or adding to soups, stews, and other dishes. Markets offer different round varieties in yellow, red, and white, as well as torpedo-shaped onions and flat cipollinis. Look for firm onions with smooth skins and no soft spots. Store in a cool dry area, away from potatoes (which can cause them to spoil). Torpedo and sweet onions should be eaten fresh and not stored. You’ll find that organic market onions have more flavor than their conventional grocery-store counterparts.

Persimmons: Available in fall and winter, persimmons are generally one of two varieties: Fuyus, which are apple shaped and eaten when crisp, and Hachiyas, which are longer and more acorn shaped and eaten when soft (usually in baked goods such as a spice cake). Both varieties are deep orange. Look for firm Fuyus and eat them out of hand, peel and all, or store in the refrigerator for several days. They are delicious peeled and sliced in a salad. Buy Hachiyas soft and ripe already, or still firm. To ripen at home, place point side up at room temperature until soft. When ready to use, peel and seed.

Beets: Available summer through winter, beets are delicious served warm as a side dish, or cold in a salad. They pair well with cheeses and nuts. Varieties today include golden and striped beets, as well as the classic red beets. Find small to medium-size specimens with crisp-looking stems and attached greens (the leaves may be a little wilted). To store, cut off the greens (store separately if planning to eat them) and refrigerate the beets in a perforated bag in the vegetable bin, for up to a week. To use, rinse well, boil or roast them, then peel after cooking. The tender parts of the greens can be added to a soup or braised for a side dish.

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