The growing season has officially ended for many states in our region with our first killing frost, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity for seasonal eating is over! As late as mid-November, you’ll find local foods in season and typically at a greatly reduced price as orchards and markets are eager to close up for the season. In the American Midwest, Plains, New England and Tidewater states, there are 5 crops that you should be able to harvest, forage for or purchase readily and inexpensively.
- Pumpkins, of course! The day after Beggar’s night, pie pumpkins will be dramatically reduced in price as markets and orchards attempt to purge their fall and Halloween stock to prepare for winter and Christmas items. Look for small pumpkins that seem heavy for their size, with a 2 inch stem and no damage to the skin. Pumpkins will store for many months in a cool, dark place like a cellar or garage, though you do want to protect them from freezing temperatures. Check them every couple of weeks for moldy spots and use or discard immediately if you find they’re beginning to go south. Pumpkin can be roasted for soups or stews, dehydrated, candied, canned, and made into delicious pumpkin butter with little effort.
- Winter squash. Along with pumpkins, winter squash should be ready to store for winter. Look for heavy, blemish-free squash with short stems and be mindful of the variety you choose. Varieties such as butternut, acorn and hubbard will keep for many months (up to 6) in a cool, dark place while other varieties like cushaws will not keep terribly long. Storage squash are delicious roasted with butter and maple syrup, pureed into soup, can be pressure-canned, dehydrated and frozen.
- Late-season apples. Apples that ripen in late October typically have a very long storage life if kept under proper conditions. Look for blemish free apples with their stems attached. They need a spot that is very cool, but not freezing, dark and slightly humid. An old Igloo cooler kept in the garage with a slightly damp paper towel on top works well and can keep apples fresh til January or February. It’s crucial that you check the apples weekly for spoilage as one bad apple spoils the whole crop, as they say. Great varieties to look for include Braeburn, Pippins, Fuji, Idared, Mutsu and Melrose. For an even longer shelf-life, apples can be sauced, canned in syrup, buttered or dehydrated.
- Nuts. Now is a great time to forage for nuts! Butternuts, hickory and walnuts are ripe and abundant during late October and early November. Watch your neighborhood for nut trees and I can promise you someone will bless your heart for cleaning up the drops in their yard. There is a little legwork involved when it comes to harvesting nuts, but with black walnuts running $8-10/lb, it can definitely be worth your time to gather them. They’ll be a delicious addition to your Christmas baking, are scrumptious in holiday candies and look beautiful on the side of a cheese plate. The simplest way to preserve nuts is to shell them, lightly roast them and store them in the freezer. They’ll keep almost indefinitely under those conditions.
- Cranberries. As we get closer to the end of November, you should be able to find cranberries for a pittance, depending on your region. Even here in Central Ohio, cranberries can be purchased for as little as $.50/# in November and December . To store fresh cranberries, simply toss the whole bag straight into the freezer and thaw them when you’re ready to use them. There are also many simple ways to use fresh cranberries, from simple sauces to fruit leathers, so take advantage of the great prices and pick up several bags!
As we discussed a few months ago in my post “Eating Seasonally“, winter IS the more difficult time to eat seasonally and locally as so few fresh, seasonal, local products are available, but let me encourage you—it’s not an all or nothing prospect! By taking advantage of the opportunities to forage, harvest and purchase at great prices, you’ll find that it’s not so difficult to add seasonal dishes to your diet. Let me close this post with one of my very favorite fall/winter dishes…Roasted butternut squash with apples and cranberries!
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 (1- 3/4) pound butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 medium apple, cubed
- 1/2 cup cranberries
- 1/4 t cinnamon
- 1/4 t nutmeg
- 2T brown sugar or maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a 2 quart baking dish. Cover and bake for 3o minutes. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the squash is tender and begins to brown just a bit. Serve alongside chicken, turkey or a pork roast.
Isn’t that a delicious, quick, easy, nutritious and fabulously seasonal dish? It’s one of my high-carb favorites! Hope you try it and love it! Til next time!
Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!