When the air turns cool and the trees blaze with color, it’s time to taste the autumn harvest.
It’s always sad to see summer produce fade out, but there is excitement that comes in with the interesting and complex vegetables of fall as the tomatoes and zucchini begin to vanish from the dirt-dusted tables at farmers markets and make room for autumn’s bumper crop of fall produce offering a range of intense flavors and substantial textures.
Fall is the time to get excited about getting back into the kitchen and spending some time tinkering with recipes and ingredients again. And the cooler temperatures bring a whole slew of seasonal fall produce to cook with, from crisp apples and juicy pears to sweet root vegetables and sturdy winter squash. Making long-simmered stews and sauces, braising, baking, and other forms of cooking eschewed in hotter weather are back on the table.
Get ready to make the most of what you’ll find at the markets this autumn with this fall produce guide:
There is, perhaps, no fall produce more representative of autumn than a crisp apple. Apple’s widespread popularity is reflected in the incredible number of varieties available with over 7,500 kinds grown around the world. Grab a Gala, Granny Smith, or Red Delicious for an afternoon snack, use McIntosh to brew up a batch of warm, cinnamon-spiked homemade applesauce, and utilize the sturdiness of Jonathan, Jonagold and Pink Lady for all your fall baking needs.
This earthy, sweet root vegetable comes in red, pink, orange, yellow, and white varieties, as well as a range of sizes. Both the bulbous root and leafy stalk are edible, making it a versatile ingredient in many dishes. Keep roasted beets on hand for soups, purées, and for adding to salads—just dice and toss them in the oven for about an hour. The common beet’s vibrant fuchsia hue will also color anything it’s cooked with—try pickling beets with hard-boiled eggs for a beautiful, tangy snack.
3. Brussel Sprouts
These tender, mild-flavored members of the cabbage family are in season from late August through March, during which time you should be able to find them loose or on the stalk at markets. Tender and sweet when roasted, fried, or steamed, they only release their infamous sulfur aroma when overcooked. Try brussel sprouts layered with Gruyère in a savory gratin, sautéed with smoky chorizo, or shredded and tossed into a kale salad and dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette.
4. Butternut Squash
The sweet, earthy, nutty, and deliciously creamy butternut squash is heralded as the harbinger of fall. What’s great about butternut squash is that its smooth skin and somewhat elongated shape make it one of the easiest of the winter squashes to work with and there are a thousand ways to enjoy it while it’s in season through the fall and into the winter months. Full of surprises, butternut squash crisps into herbed chips, cozies up with miso, and swirls into a healthy hummus in no time.
Cabbage belongs to the same family as its trendier cruciferous siblings, kale and brussel sprouts, and spans a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. The most familiar variety has smooth green or purple heads that change shape with the seasons and features crinkled leaves and a sweeter flavor, while Napa has an oblong shape and ridged leaves. Cabbage is a major ingredient in kitchens around the world and takes many forms, from fermented kimchi and sauerkraut to stuffed cabbage leaves and coleslaws.
Colorful, sweet, and lively, even young palates won’t protest the carrot’s crunchy bite. While the bright orange supermarket variety claims mass popularity, heirloom carrots come in a rainbow of colors, from white to yellow to purple. This fall produce can go far beyond the ubiquitous crudité platter. Glazed carrots are a classic fall side dish that will never go out of style, but you can also try them grated with spices for a punchy salad, roasted with orange zest and maple syrup, or baked into cakes and breads.
Many of us grew up in a house where cauliflower was only served boiled to a mush. But once we figured out how to cook it, this long scoffed at veggie has become a welcomed kitchen staple. Keep an eye out at fall farmers markets for the familiar white cauliflower, as well as colored varieties like yellow and purple cauliflower. Cauliflower’s mild, delicate flavor lends itself well to almost any preparation. Roast it, fry it, slice and marinate, the variety of cauliflower recipes are both unending and unexpected.
Fennel is perhaps best known for its licorice-scented seeds, used to flavor everything from baked goods to Italian sausage. But the crunchy bulb itself has a delicious, delicate anise flavor, and the feathery fronds add an herbaceous note to a variety of fall salads and soups. Try shaving it thin and tossing it with olives and citrus for a crunchy salad, blending it into a creamy, aromatic soup, or slicing and baking it until tender with cream and bread crumbs for a hearty autumn side dish.
Though they’re readily available candied and dried, fresh figs are something else entirely. Aromatic, delicate, and less sweet than their preserved counterparts, figs make a welcome addition to desserts and baked goods, as well as a natural complement for savory foods like charcuterie and cheese. Available from May through November, figs come in hundreds of varieties that range in flavor from jammy and fruity to honeyed and floral. Try figs on toast with ricotta and honey, tossed into salads, or made into compote.
Most mushroom varieties can be found year round, but are particularly abundant in the fall. Choose cremini and portobello mushrooms to infuse stews with a wonderful earthiness while shiitake adds a distinctive umami flavor to stir-fries and soups, and chanterelles, oyster, and enoki mushrooms lend a delicate sweetness to nearly any dish and easily dress up a vegetarian lasagna. No matter the variety, the earthy, deep flavor of fall mushrooms is always welcome on our plates.
Long before the orange carrot achieved ubiquity on dinner tables, its less flashy, cream-colored cousin, the parsnip, was considered the ruler of the root vegetables. While similar in taste to the carrot, the parsnip is far sweeter, especially when roasted and has a mild peppery, nutty flavor. As for cooking, there’s no shortage of ways to prepare parsnips. They are interchangeable in almost any root vegetable recipe and can be roasted, baked, broiled, mashed, or even pureed into a soup.
Like apples, pears come in a whole slew of varieties. There’s Bartlett, delicious in salads or eaten out of hand. The crisp Bosc, which holds up beautifully when poached in red wine or baked in a buttery tart. The Sugar Pear, which is spicy and aromatic and is a wonderful choice for a blue cheese and walnut salad. And Comice pears with their custardy texture are perfect for desserts. Pick pears that are still hard and allow them to ripen on the counter for succulent, sweet addition to all sorts of fall dishes.
When it comes to favorite fall ingredients, pumpkin may very well be king. The small, spherical pie varieties make for a wonderfully silky homemade pumpkin pie filling. These pumpkins are always best slipped into some buttery dessert that will make your kitchen smell like fall and fuel your autumn spirit. And while pumpkin is used in a lot of sweets and baked goods, it can be used just like other winter squash tucked into a bowl of chili or as the heart of hearty stew or soul of an autumn soup.
Sage is the ultimate fall herb with its fragrant, woodsy aroma. Sage leaves are soft, velvety, extremely tender, and have an aroma reminiscent of pine and eucalyptus. Sage is an intensely aromatic herb, and unlike its tender basil and parsley cousins, its leaves are sturdy and resinous. Because of sage’s powerful aroma and oily texture, a little goes long way flavor wise and its downy leaves can withstand the long cooking times of stews and slow roasts without losing its flavor.
15. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are one of fall’s true gems. These starchy root vegetables peak in fall and can vary widely in texture and color from creamy to fluffy, deep orange to nearly white, with flavor profiles that bring to mind pumpkin, vanilla, and toasted nuts. Their natural sweetness makes them an obvious choice for desserts, but they’re equally good in savory preparations, whether simply roasted with a bit of salt, puréed into soup, or baked into a gratin. There’s no wrong way or time of day to eat sweet potatoes.
Surely you won’t have a problem finding any of these fall fruits, veggies, and herbs at your local supermarket or neighborhood grocery store. But the best way to experience the raw beauty of fall produce is always by touring local farmers markets. And be sure to keep an eye out for some of the more unique fall produce including pomegranates, kohlrabi, quince, persimmons, watermelon radishes, and perhaps the most eye-catching of them all, romanesco!