Merry October! Let’s pick up some PSLs and head to the farm stand for fresh, in-season produce.
What do we find?
Apples are available year-round in North America because of cold storage, meaning the apples you eat in spring have very often been stored since the previous fall (unless they’ve come from Chile or other countries in the southern hemisphere). The apples you get now will be the juiciest, have the freshest taste, and be less likely to be mealy and bruised. If you tend to go off-piste while cooking like I do, remember that two pounds=one 9″ pie.
A member of the thistle family, artichokes look like an intimidating PITA to beginners. But if you have a good pair of kitchen shears to trim the thorns, trimming them is quick work. The stem is edible but a little bitter–trim the end and use a vegetable peeler to scrape off the tough exterior. I keep jars of brined artichokes on hand year-round, but you miss out on some of the inflammation-fighting phytonutrients.
Word of warning to new and expectant parents, post-beet diapers can be a little alarming. The sweetness of beets make them a toddler favorite. Modern beets were originally cultivated for sugar extraction in Silesia (an area that is now divided by Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic). Beets are also full of potassium, good for leg cramps and growing pains.
October starts the peak season for broccoli. I can’t wait for the price to fall, because the crazy folks at Winn-Dixie are selling it at $3.99/bunch as I write this in late September. The dendriform vegetable takes its name from the Latin word brachium, meaning “branch.” Broccoli turns so rapidly that, along with cauliflower, it is one of those vegetables I don’t buy unless I’m going to use it within 24 hours.
Cabbage is a food I had to start eating as an adult, because my mother has terrible childhood memories of my late grandmother’s cooking. My grandmother was a woman of many talents but feeding her five children was not one of them. If cabbage is cooked too long, especially boiled, it will envelop the whole house in a sulfurous odor and take on a deeply unpleasant flavor. It’s best to select a compact head, strip the outer leaves, and cook in only 3/4″ of water. Shredded cabbage takes only about 5 minutes to cook, and it is better to undercook slightly.
Have you ever eaten carrot leaves or seeds? Me either! But that’s what the original purple plant was cultivated for in Persia. Today, almost half of the world’s carrots are produced in China, and many of the frozen carrots we eat in the US were grown there. I like to add a tiny amount of cinnamon, ginger, and orange juice to mashed carrots to make baby food.
Is there anything prettier than a fresh head of cauliflower? Math nerds love it for its unique fractal dimension. It has appeared in works by H. Baert, Alexandre-Francois Desportes, and Louis Fairfax Muckley. And right now, it is pervasive in the frozen food aisle. Cauliflower is bring turned into gnocchi, rice, tater tots, pizza crust, and flat breads. It’s become such a juggernaut that the rice industry has sent out formal complaint letters to Green Giant and grocery stores over the term “rice.” I don’t think anything could take the place of rice on our plates long term–but cauliflower certainly looks like it will occupy that niche for a long time to come.
Collard greens are related to cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. While they’re coming into season now, I associate them with the big New Year’s Day lunch, when they’re eaten cooked with pieces of the Christmas Day ham, the ham bone going in the black eyed peas, to symbolize prosperity in the coming year. Canned collards also exist but I cannot recommend them.
In the last month of my pregnancy, I ate a ton of Medjool dates. Consumption of dates has been linked to easier labor. While personally did not benefit (After nineteen hours of labor, I dilated to nine, went into medical distress, and had a caesarean anyway), it was at least a good excuse to buy a delicacy I don’t usually keep around. Dates have always been a holiday food in my family, and my paternal grandmother made a mean date nut bread. I miss her like crazy.
Grapes have been on sale all summer, you say. But the ones that come into stores in October have the benefit of spending all summer on the vine, plus the cold nights force sugar production. The grapes that are harvested now may inch upwards in price, as they become a little more scarce. Most wine grapes in the US are harvested in September and October.
Honeydew melons are going to be out of season after this month, so it’s your last chance! Pick an uglier melon for the best taste. Dull. Pale yellow and creamy in color. The shiny and green ones are underripe. The bottom will yield slightly and the stem end will be hard. If you shake it, you may hear the seeds move inside.
Everyone has that weird friend who insists in eating kiwifruit whole. It turns out she’s right, since the skin has triple the fiber of the flesh. (I’m that weird friend who calls it kiwi flesh.) Kiwi comes from California starting in October. Kiwi used to be known as Chinese gooseberry, but it is not a true gooseberry. The fruit was brought from China to New Zealand, and it became known as kiwi upon its import into the United States.
These feel like they’re always in season, don’t they? Like apples, this is due to cold storage of the previous year’s crop and imports. Low-carb people give this vegetable a bad rap, but a six-ounce medium potato only has about 150 calories. My personal favorite way to cook potatoes is on a sheet pan with other root vegetables and squash, seasoning with sea salt, rosemary, thyme, and whatever other herbs fall into my hands.
I mean, obviously. The queen of October vegetables probably doesn’t get eaten as much as it should be. (Although my daughter did mistake a mini for a teether last week.) Sugar pumpkins have been bred for pies. Jack O’Lanterns are typically pretty bland. They’re great in chili or any other dish where there are a lot of spices, because the vegetable just marinates in it and the result is marvelously flavorful. And of course, you’re going to need carving utensils.
Spinach is in season during early spring and fall, and we’re in the last weeks of the fall spinach season. Bags of baby spinach are BOGO almost every week now. But if you are immune-compromised or caring for a very young child, make sure that the spinach is thoroughly rinsed. In 2006, 276 people were sickened and 3 died (including a 2-year-old toddler) after consuming bagged spinach that had been grown on a cattle ranch.
They’re still mostly green on my tree, but tangerines are starting to hit store shelves. They’re an adorable lunch box snack, especially if you use a Sharpie to draw a jack o’lantern face on them. That’s assuming your kid doesn’t refuse to eat them because it sometimes seems like there are more seeds than fruit. They take their name from Tangier, Morocco.
A centerpiece that you can eat. Varieties of winter squash include turban, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, Hubbard, the list goes on. These are fabulous on a tray with potatoes and other root vegetables–roughly a tablespoon of olive oil tossed with two pounds of vegetables and seasoning to taste, then baked at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, stirring halfway through.
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