Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I took a drive down the coast to visit the new Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room in Davenport. They closed down their Santa Cruz location back in May and moved up into a new space about 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The proprietor, Randall Grahm, is somewhat of a bad-ass in California wine history, and I have a lot of respect for him for popularizing Rhone wines in California. After all, some of my favorite varietal wines are made from Rhone varieties, and if it weren’t for Randall we might be in the dark about these delicious wines.

Unfortunately, the people operating the tasting room would not allow me to take any photos because they weren’t finished furnishing the place. Really guys? Your website says you are open for business and I just drove here from San Francisco! Anyhow, all I got was this crummy photo of their sign on the highway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo why is this blog post titled Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall? Well, if you’ve ever driven down Highway 1 in the fall, you know how many farm stands selling local produce there are all along the way. My travel partner and I decided to make the best of the situation and do some farm-standing along the way back home. I will review the beautiful fall vegetables we encountered along the way, along with some lovelies I came across at the Farmer’s Market this weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurban Squash! These aren’t as great for eating as they are for looking at, but in the fall you will see them taking over the coastal pumpkin patches in California. They are an heirloom variety, dating back to to the 1800’s.  The flesh tastes vaguely of hazelnut and they make an excellent soup. You can also roast them whole and use them as a large soup tureen. I would probably just leave these mutant squash as-is and add them to my home as part of my holiday décor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPo-ta-toes! Boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew. While these are available year-round, I tend to eat them more in the fall because they lend themselves best to hearty, warm, savory dishes. We are fortunate to have many heirloom varieties at our disposal here in the Bay Area, and every time I buy potatoes I try a new variety. My favorite way to prepare them is to wash them, leave them un-peeled, chop into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil & fresh herbs, then roast at 375 degrees until tender and crispy around the edges. You can use these roasted potatoes in salads, as a simple side dish, as an accompaniment to eggs, or all by themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunchokes! What the heck are these, anyway? Also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, they are actually the tuber of the sunflower. They are ugly to look at, but if you find these rarities at the market be sure to snatch them up while they are available. They are as delicious as they are ugly. I like to chop them, toss in olive oil, and roast like I would a potato. The flavor is nutty and artichoke-like and they would be great paired with something a little sweet to offset their savory personality.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARadicchio! This is my favorite bitter leafy vegetable of the fall & winter. While it’s generally available year-round, I think it tastes best this time of year. You can slice a radicchio in half and grill it, or use it raw in a salad mixed with arugula and sherry or balsamic vinaigrette. It’s important to use a sweet-ish dressing with this in a salad, as it can be quite bitter and needs a little balance. It tastes great with bacon, too. It’s festive color is perfect for the season and will be a lovely compliment on your Thanksgiving table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWild mushrooms! This year we have a huge bumper crop of mushrooms, and it’s only fall. Prices are at rock bottom right now and you can find some pretty exotic varieties at your local wild mushroom purveyor. These shown in the photo, above, are called Violet Chanterelles, or Pig’s Ears. They have a lovely texture and earthy/pungent flavor that is perfect to accompany roasted game birds or pork. Other delicious mushrooms to try are Porcini, King Trumpet, yellow Chanterelle, Black Trumpet, Hedgehog, Matsutake, Maitake, Pioppini, and Yellowfoot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPersimmons! While I don’t have much experience with these, I do know how prolific they are around here in the fall. I had neighbors in Oakland with a whole orchard of them in their back yard. They are gorgeous when still on the tree, as they are late-ripening and the tree loses it’s leaves before the fruit falls off, making a silhouette that looks eerily like a scraggly Christmas tree full of bright orange ornaments. I know we have two major varieties here in CA; the sweet & friendly Fuyu persimmon, and the astringent Hachiya persimmon. To make them more palatable, my dad used to put his persimmon into a coffee mug and cover it with a small plate for several days. This would accelerate the ripening process, and he would eat it when it was practically rotting. Gross, Dad. There are some varieties indigenous to the United States, and they were a staple food of the Native Americans and early “American” settlers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApples! There is no fall food more perfect than the apple, especially here in California where we have access to a zillion different heirloom varieties. Right now there is a bounty of fresh apples all over the place and there’s a reason apple pie is so popular in the fall. Some of my favorite heirloom varieties include Pink Pearl, Grenadine, Rome, Wickson and Sierra Beauty. Pink-fleshed apples like Pink Pearl and Grenadine are not only beautiful, but in my opinion the most delicious. Perhaps it’s my mind playing tricks on me because of the seductive color, convincing my brain that they somehow taste better, but that Grenadine apple really does taste just like grenadine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoodbye tomatoes, basil, sweet corn & zucchini. Say Sayonara to sweet peppers. Summer is O-V-E-R, make room for fall foods! What are some of your favorite fall fruits & vegetables?