In the Northern Hemisphere, today is the Fall Equinox, or Autumn Equinox if you prefer (it does sound nicer). In most parts of California, the four seasons are not dramatically distinct, but there are some more subtle changes to note as we officially enter fall. Mornings and evenings are a bit cooler, there’s some Halloween costume brain-storming going on, and the big-box stores seem to think it’s already the holidays. Californians who frequent farmers’ markets and farm stands, or make a point of shopping for local, seasonal produce, will soon be noticing some shifts in the arrays of available fruits and vegetables.
Yes, our state is famous for its year-round agricultural bounty. Our farms are responsible for a third of all the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruits and nuts grown nationwide, according to California Grown. Much of that produce is on market shelves all year, so it’s easy for consumers to feel disconnected from the seasons. Now that it’s fall, embrace the opportunity to adjust your buying patterns and take advantage of the California-grown crops that are about to reach their peak. So while we must say goodbye to prime strawberries and abundant zucchini, let’s consider the following local crops and imbue some delicious seasonality into our cooking plans.
You probably have apples in your fruit bowl or fridge all year around, but their harvest season is from August to December. Fall is peak apple-picking time, which you can do as a fun day out at select orchards across California. You will probably want to dress as if the weather’s chilly and autumnal, which makes for cute pictures even if you’re secretly overheating.
We tend to associate apple growing with colder climates, for example the Pacific Northwest or the Northeastern United States, but California is actually the fifth largest producer of apples in the nation. According to the California Apple Commission, apples are grown in every single county, so it should be viable to buy locally.
OK, eating apples is not a remarkable suggestion for fall, or any season. No recipes are required, just enjoy them as a snack, or slice them thinly to fancy-up a cheese plate. Of course, apples belong in pies, cobblers and all kinds of cinnamon-accented baked goods. Don’t forget their delicious savory applications. They’re great when grated into coleslaw, or for adding a sweet crunch to a salad starring blue cheese and bacon crumbles. How about thin slices of Granny Smith tucked into a grilled cheese? You could spend a few wholesome hours making candy apples with the kids… the joy is surely worth the post-project cleanup, right?
Buying beets gives you the rare opportunity to use the adjective “earthy,” and to stain your hands (and cutting board, and possibly clothing) an amusingly bloody shade of red. You can’t say that about any other vegetable. It’s probably a coincidence that the goriest of roots coincides with spooky season, but fall is for sure the time to start buying and eating beets at their flavorful peak.
Buy beets with the leaves and stems attached and you get the bonus of edible greens as well as roots. Cook them in the same way you would spinach or chard. It’s also a great way to check for freshness, as the leaves get wilted and unpleasant looking soon after harvest. If the greens look good, the whole vegetable is fresh as can be.
Beets definitely belong in your fall salads, whether raw or roasted. Why not try your hand at making borscht, or a buttery root gratin as your new favorite comfort food dish. Slice beets paper thin and air-fry them to make chips, or grate them into a homemade bean burger or meatloaf mixture. If you’re not a fan of the copious dye that comes from red beets, try golden or Chioggia varieties, which don’t have the same feature and are just as delicious.
Brussels sprouts were really having a moment a few years back, when society as a whole suddenly discovered they’re really good with bacon. Combine that trend with the circa-2000 realization across western cuisine that most vegetables are actually much better roasted than boiled to death, and Brussels sprouts have really had a glow up. (They genuinely do taste better than they used to, thanks to selective breeding.) Yes, sprouts’ days as maligned mini cabbages are long in the past. So are any incorrect assumptions that they grow in patches on the ground. No, Brussels sprouts actually grow on a Dr. Seussian tree stalk. You can even buy them still on the stalk, just once for fun, and throw away 80% of the net weight of your purchase.
So, what do you do with Brussels sprouts if it’s not boiling them to mush in order to traumatize children? Slice them thinly and throw them in a hearty fall-flavored salad with walnuts, carrot and pomegranate. Stir-fry them with bacon or mushrooms. Rustle up a classic British bubble and squeak – this version adds bacon AND duck fat. Roast halved sprouts over parmesan to give them a cheesy crust. Basically, add fat and boost the umami, and your Brussels sprouts will be delicious this fall.
Somehow, some way, kiwi fruits are incredibly cute. They’re like little cartoon fruits, with their black-dot seeds, lime green highlighter hue and fuzzy coat. Their name is one you might give a kitten, or an especially plump goldfish (no?). Kiwi growers, however, are insistent that buyers know these are serious fruits, with nutritional stats that could make you swoon. They’re an exceptionally high source of Vitamin C, among a whole host of beneficial vitamins and minerals, and a good source of fiber, too.
The U.S. isn’t one of the world’s major kiwi producers (China and New Zealand top the list), but California is responsible for about 98% of domestic production. Harvest time for kiwi starts in October, so it’s time to stock up and start enjoying this delicious, nutritious fruit. Did you know you can eat the skin? Most people don’t, though, except probably those who insist on devouring apple cores, seeds and all. A fun way to eat a kiwi is to slice it in half and scoop out the fruit by the spoonful as if it’s a soft-boiled egg. How about adding some to a tropical salsa? They make any fruit salad look special, and if you mix diced kiwi into Greek yogurt for breakfast you’ll feel smug and healthy all day long.
Do you ever decide to pick up a new-to-you fruit or vegetable on a whim, then stare at it for a few days before entering “what do I do with…” in the search bar? Fall is the perfect time to do just that with persimmons. Unless, of course, you’re already a persimmon aficionado. In that case, you already know that there are two distinct types: astringent, like Hachiya, which are only good when they’re fully ripe and jammy; and non-astringent, like Fuyu, which are pleasant to eat when ripe as well as slightly under ripe and crunchy. Both kinds are grown widely in California.
Persimmons’ flavor is generally described as sweet and tropical, with an affinity for warm spices – ideal for all kinds of fall-inspired baked dishes. If you’re unfamiliar with persimmons, start with tried-and-true recipes before experimenting. Options span sweet and savory fare, and both cooked and raw applications, so there’s no shortage of potential ways to enjoy California-grown persimmons this fall.
Pumpkins are probably the No 1. vegetable that comes to mind when thinking about fall, even if those thoughts probably lean more toward décor than cooking. It’s safe to say that very few pumpkin patch purchases make it to the plate, instead fulfilling their life’s mission of making a porch or fireplace look really nice and festive. As with all winter squashes, fall is very much the season for harvesting locally grown pumpkins, in California and everywhere else where Halloween is a thing.
How about this year, you buy some pumpkins for cooking as well as carving? Don’t just get any big ol’ pumpkin, though, as only a few varieties are good for eating. Look for the names “sugar pumpkin” or “pie pumpkin,” or specific varieties including Fairy Tale, Autumn Gold or Baby Pam. Stick to smaller specimens in the four- to eight-pound range. Prep and cook pumpkins as you would any other hard-skinned winter squash, and substitute it for other winter squashes in sweet and savory recipes. Don’t forget to save the seeds for roasting and snacking.
What’s your favorite local fruit or vegetable for the fall season? Let us know!
Hungry for more California Cuisine? You might like to read “The San Francisco Story of Green Goddess Dressing.”