Go beyond the butternut.
Along with sugar sand beaches, restaurant patios, and a lack of road salt stains on our shoes, Southerners enjoy a variety of warm weather destinations and activities all year long—one of the best being year-round farmers markets. While our neighbors to the North are beginning to hunker down with all things root vegetables, we still have an array of colorful and captivating produce available. Here are the 10 items we never pass up at the market in the Fall.
Vines of this Southern grape grow wild across the region. With a deep, complex sweetness and a larger size, they’re perfect for making jelly, pies, or sorbet. Old timers know they also make a saccharine wine too.
A squash particular to the Louisiana area, Mirlitons appear in markets in October ready to be stuffed with Tasso ham and cheese or sliced up for casseroles. They have a crisp, almost-cucumber like texture and taste.
From Texas to South Carolina, pecan groves come alive in Fall. You might even find this native nut for sale in-shell at many markets. To keep peak season pecans sweet and crunchy, store them in the refrigerator or in the freezer.
Nicknamed “hipster bananas” due to their tropical taste and propensity to be gathered by foraging enthusiasts, pawpaws grow in more wooded areas from Appalachia to the Northern parts of Texas. Try them as a substitute in recipes that call for mangoes, melons or bananas.
From Shiitakes to Oyster, many Southern farmers cultivate mushrooms and others forage for more illusive varieties like Morels. For a Fall-themed pasta, saute mushrooms with greens and toss with pasta.
The main building block of salsa verde is one of our favorite fruits of Fall. Look for smaller tomatillos with husks that aren’t peeled off and more of a green or light brown color. Try using them in place of regular tomatoes in recipes from Bloody Marys to chili.
These bright orange fruits drop from wild trees in backyards and forests across the South come late Fall and Winter. Nancie McDermott, author of Fruit: A Savor the South Cookbook, cautions that although they might appear a little wilted and forlorn, they are “kitchen gold.” Try them in the classic Southern dish, persimmon pudding or use their puree in other desserts.
Use the farmers market to explore the different varieties of sweet potatoes which range in color from yellow to deep purple. Look for Carolina Rubies, with a deep red flesh, or Georgia’s White Delights with a purple-pink skin and a white interior.
While Apples are wholly American, there are certain types that are special to the South, including Arkansas Black, with it’s deep red skin, and the Grimes Golden, which originated in 1790 in West Virginia.
Like giant blueberries, Damson plums are very tart, but become delicious once simmered with sugar or dried. Use them for the base of a jam and spread them on toast with fancy peanut butter for a grown-up PB&J.