“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
Break out your favorite North Face. Fall is officially upon us and if it hasn’t been made apparent by the leaves changing colors, the cool wind and rain blowing in your face should serve as a reminder that summer is officially over. For all of the grief many of us experience facing the reality that “winter is coming”, fall offers us some of the best culinary experiences of the year and provides us with ample reason to explore the benefits of eating seasonal produce. If you’re new to this concept, it’s a simple one to grasp and a bandwagon you may want to consider boarding.
Eating seasonally simply means choosing foods (primarily fruits and vegetables) that are in a peak growth and production stage. In fall, the obvious ones are apples, pumpkins, and squash while less discussed options include chard, collards, fennel, and broccolini. Selections will vary by geographic location and one of the easiest ways to determine the foods that are in season in your local market is to visit the nearest Farmer’s market and get to know the wonderful men and women growing produce in the area. Not only will they have the best selection (obviously local and often organic), they are typically willing to educate you on their growing practices and which foods are at peak ripeness.
Now that we’ve cleared up what it means to eat seasonally, you may be asking why this matters or why you would go out of your way to change your grocery shopping routine when you typically stick to the same list every two weeks. In a nutshell, the further food travels from its original source (the ground where it was planted), the less nutrient dense it is when it arrives on your plate. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of picking and eating fruit or vegetables directly from a plant, you probably noticed that it tasted fresher and had a more complex flavor profile than food you’ve bought at the grocery store. Like us, plants are living organisms and while still attached to their roots, they are taking in nutrients from the soil in the same way our digestive track absorbs nutrients from our food. This means freshly picked produce will have a higher nutrient density than something that’s been shipped across the country in a cardboard box. With that in mind, finding local produce will ensure that the distance it has traveled from it’s source to your plate is minimized, therefore offering you more flavorful food with higher nutrient content.
If you’re sold on the benefits of seasonal food or at least considering giving it a try, the next step is to track down the best sources in your area. There are a wealth of resources on the web to help you achieve this task, but I’ve done some of the legwork for you to give you a head start. Below are a few great resources for identifying local, seasonal produce near you:
If you are new to seasonal eating, I might suggest picking a few of the foods you discover from the resources above and adding one or two to your grocery list. Many of them can be easily incorporated into your weekly meals. Here are some of my personal favorites based on taste and ease of preparation:
- Brussels sprouts with bacon – cut the Brussels sprouts in half and drizzle lightly with olive oil or grass-fed butter on a foil lined baking sheet or pan. Dice some fresh strips of bacon into small pieces and sprinkle it over the sprouts. Toss the dish in a preheated oven at 375 degrees* for 35-45 minutes, rotating the sprouts at 10 or 15-minute intervals. You will know the sprouts are done when you can easily pierce them with a fork.
*Cooking time decreases to 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees, but be sure to stick to 375 degrees or below when using olive oil as it has a much lower smoking point than stable fats like coconut oil or butter.
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Butternut Squash – I personally refer to these fall favorites as Mother Nature’s candy. Both can be paired with cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom and make for a hearty and vitamin rich side to any meal (great as post-workout carbohydrates). For either option, cut them into cubes after peeling the skin (peeling the potatoes is optional, but if you choose not to, give them a good scrubbing). Once chopped, coat in olive oil, coconut oil (use refined if you are averse to coconut flavor), grass-fed butter or a healthy fat alternative. Season as desired with sea salt, pepper, and/or the spices mentioned above and arrange in an even layer on a foil lined baking sheet or pan. Place in an oven preheated at 375 degrees for 30 – 40 minutes or until soft and golden brown around the edges.
- Stuffed Pumpkins – This one is new to me as of this year. In all the years I’ve carved pumpkins, I had no idea how incredible they could be as a food. For this one, you’ll need to find some smaller, pumpkin pie style pumpkins (organic if possible). Cooking the pumpkins is the easy part. Simply cut off the tops and dig out the seeds the way you would for the carving process (be sure to save the seeds for later). Fill a Dutch oven or deep baking dish with 0.5 – 1 inch of water and place the open side of the pumpkin face down in the water. Place the dish or Dutch oven in an oven preheated to 425 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes or until soft, but not falling apart. At this point, it’s up to you how you fill the pumpkins. I personally would consider adding grass-fed ground beef and fennel with spinach or another seasonal green like collards or chard. This makes for a hearty meal and the pumpkin adds just enough sweetness to keep your taste buds happy. You can choose to cook the filling separately if you follow this recipe, but you may want to place the pumpkin back in the oven for 7-10 minutes once filled with the additional ingredients.
Hopefully this provides you with some fresh ideas on how to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your weekly repertoire. If nothing else, it should serve as a starter kit to some of the best flavors that fall has to offer.
Do you buy seasonal produce? If so, what are your favorite recipes? Try the options above and let me know how it goes or share your fall favorites in the comments below.