Do these early fall months have you lamenting the disappearance of your favorite produce stand’s supply of blueberries, butterbeans, peppers, and plums?
Cheer up! Some fruits and vegetables are seeing the end of their growing season, but others are just getting started or still in full swing.
The North Carolina Apple Growers website reports that our state ranks seventh in apple production and lists fourteen varieties growing here. Whether you like your apples red, green, yellow, sweet, tart, soft, or crisp, there are plenty of choices that are good for snacking, baking, or both. And September and October are prime harvesting months. Apples are an on-the-go food that, some say, can aid digestion, keep cholesterol in check and headaches at bay, reduce the likelihood of catching colds and upper respiratory ailments, and energize you like a cup of morning coffee.
That’s a lot of goodness in one piece of fruit.
When it comes to eating apples, you can always just nibble away at them right down to the core. Or cut them into quarters for a healthy snack that’s easier for little hands to hold. Peeled and chopped or sliced, there is no shortage of recipes for cooking and baking apples, even beyond that all-time American favorite—apple pie.
Peel and chop your favorite apples until you have three cups’ worth. Set them aside. Beat together: 1 cup of oil, 3 eggs, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. The batter will be thick. Add in the chopped apples and mix well. Divide batter into 2 greased loaf pans and sprinkle additional cinnamon and sugar on top, if you like. Bake the loaves together at 3250 for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of each loaf.
Homemade Applesauce is easy and scrumptious. Into a large saucepan, peel and slice 4 to 6 medium-sized apples. Add ¼ of a cup of water. Heat on Low. Use a slotted spoon to stir the apples and mash them as they begin to soften. If necessary, add small amounts of water to keep the apples from burning. Continue stirring and cooking until the apples are soft, about 30 to 45 minutes. Mix in cinnamon and sugar to taste. This recipe makes about 3 cups of homemade applesauce.
Pears are tougher to grow in North Carolina due to our late spring frosts and a bacterial disease called fire blight. But while pears may not be a cash crop in our state, early fall is their prime time and they’re worth waiting for.
With their unique “grainy” texture, ripe pears are a deliciously juicy snack. Dice them up and they add sweetness to salads and make for delectable jams and jellies.
An Autumn Salad is a wonderfully versatile combination of sweet and salty flavors. Toss shredded romaine or iceberg lettuce, diced pears, dried cranberries, chopped pecans, some crisp crumbled bacon and a bit of feta cheese. Drizzle balsamic vinaigrette on top.
Pear & Parmesan Cream Sauce
This is incredible over your favorite pasta and a nice change from classic red sauces. Peel, core, and finely dice 2 soft-ripe pears and set them aside. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and stir to blend. Whisk in ½ cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk. When sauce has thickened, reduce heat to low and stir in 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of mascarpone cheese, ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, and diced pears. Add a dash of nutmeg and salt and pepper to your liking. If the sauce is too thick, use milk or hot water from your cooked pasta to thin it a bit.
Persimmons, Grapes, and Raspberries.
Persimmon trees love North Carolina and when the tantalizingly sweet-spicy fruit has ripened and falls to the ground, growers compete with deer, fox, raccoons and other wildlife for the harvest.
Green or red grapes can be a quick snack or side dish to a light meal. Or slice a few and add them to chicken salad.
Raspberries & Oatmeal
Enjoy raspberries by the handful, on cereal, or in oatmeal. Mix a handful of berries into a ½ cup of quick oats and ½ cup of milk. Let the oatmeal refrigerate overnight and sprinkle a bit of brown sugar or sugar-in-the-raw on top in the morning before eating.
Sweet potatoes are as native to North Carolina as banana pudding is to a pig-pickin’. The NC Sweet Potatoes website is a good reminder that our heat and humidity are good for something—keeping our state ranked #1 in sweet potato production for nearly 50 years. There are sweet potato pies and pie filling, sweet potato as a dog food ingredient, sweet potato fries and chips, and so much more. Sweet potatoes can be grilled, roasted, baked, and sautéed. Puree them for soup or spread or a sweet addition to batters. Cube them for risotto or a frittata. The possibilities are truly endless.
Baked Sweet Potato
Nothing beats a Baked Sweet Potato. Wash the potato and pierce the skin in five or six places. Line a baking sheet with foil and bake at 425° for 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s tender and the sticky sweetness is oozing from the pierced places onto the foil.
Sweet Potato Pie
Try this to-die-for Sweet Potato Pie as an alternative to the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. Prepare 2 to 2 1/2 cups of cooked and mashed sweet potatoes. Preheat the oven to 450°. Combine sweet potatoes with ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup firmly-packed brown sugar, ½ cup French vanilla instant pudding mix, ¾ cup evaporated milk, 2 eggs, 6 tablespoons softened butter, and 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla. Beat until well-blended. Spread mixture into a 9-inch unbaked pastry shell. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 40 minutes or until set. Cool and serve with whipped cream.
Early winter greens are plentiful, including the often-overlooked escarole. Loaded with fiber and a ton of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, this leafy member of the chicory family can be prepared in many ways. Similar in taste to radicchio, escarole’s inner leaves are less bitter and great in salads, while the darker outer leaves tend to be better suited for grilling, sautéing, braising, or steaming.
Ever tried Escarole Soup? You’ll want to make a vat of it—it’s that good, and it freezes well. The most time-consuming part is preparing the meatballs. Mix 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 eggs, ¼ cup of bread crumbs, ¼ cup of parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Start heating 10 cups of chicken broth in a large pot. While the broth comes to a simmer, roll the ground beef mixture into small meatballs about the size of large marbles. When the broth is hot, add the meatballs and cook for 20 minutes or until they turn white. Wash one large bunch of escarole and chop into small pieces. Cook or steam until soft (about 6 minutes in the microwave). Add the steamed escarole to the soup. To make the soup more robust, you can add 1 cup of tiny “acini di pepe” pasta and simmer until the pasta is done. Serve soup with parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.
Squash is easy to come by in early autumn. Butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash are three varieties often recognized in stores and markets. They store well and pair nicely with spices ranging from ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, to sage, cilantro, and basil. It may take some practice to get past their sturdy shells, but once you get to the good stuff squash can be baked, roasted, mashed, stuffed, stewed, cubed for casseroles, pureed for soup, added to salads—use your imagination!
And, of course, everywhere you turn are the icons of autumn—pumpkins! We all know of the carving variety, but there are baking pumpkins, too, that can be prepared in all sorts of ways like squash. Or, find that puree—yes, the canned stuff is absolutely fine—and turn it into breads, cookies, pies, or some other sweet treat.
Pumpkin Cookies are deliciously spicy and a snack that will disappear fast. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat 2 cups of softened butter with a mixer. Add 2 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 eggs, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix well, then add 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree. Stir in 4 cups of flour until batter is well-blended. Drop by tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are set. While cookies are cooling, heat ½ cup butter and ½ cup packed brown sugar until melted and smooth. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and mix in ¼ cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 ¾ cups powdered sugar until smooth. Frost cooled cookies and sprinkle with cinnamon.
There are many autumn fruits and vegetables to enjoy. These are just a few. At this time of year, cool-weather foods make excellent comfort foods, so try something new or enjoy an old favorite! And don’t worry, before you know it the strawberries will be back.