What's in Season: Fall
SEPTEMBER THROUGH NOVEMBER
CARPE TEMPORE (SEIZE THE MOMENT — OR, IN THIS CASE, THE SEASON)
September in the region is often an extension of summer when it comes to local produce. While the days get shorter and the nights get colder, summer’s warmth keeps ripening tomatoes and peppers. It is a time when seasonal food is in abundance, needing to be harvested and properly stored or preserved.
EAT IN SEASON
Farm-to-table is not simply a trend but a way of life that goes back to traditions. To embrace it, try making a dinner using only ingredients found at a farmers’ market. After the first heavy frost, look for local parsnips. It is said that they are best to harvest at that time. Leafy greens like kale and cabbage can even be harvested after the first snow.
Eating in season in the fall and winter also means serving what was preserved last season and meant to be enjoyed now. Specialty shops like Barrel + Brine in Buffalo take advantage of current seasons to make true artisanal pickles, kimchee and kraut. Try their Beet & Caraway Kraut or Chinese Spiced Pickled Peanuts.
BUY BULK FROM LOCAL FARMERS OR PICK YOUR OWN
Farmers are often prepared for customers to request bulk orders like bushels of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, apples, pears or winter squash. Nuts can be purchased locally, such as walnuts, chestnuts and even hazelnuts. Dried beans are also ready now. Find them at a local farmers’ market or visit on-farm stands or stores. Add to the harvest season experience and take a date or your family out to the orchards.
LEARN THE BEST WAY TO STORE FOOD PROPERLY
Ensure that you are eating locally, maintaining convenient access to ingredients, and even saving a little money in the long run by learning how to properly store harvested crops. Winter squash, apples, pie pumpkins, garlic, potatoes and cabbages can last all winter, if their temperature and humidity needs are met. Check online to see what the specifics are for the crops you’re storing, then enjoy months of cooking from your produce pantry.
Periodically check your stock to see if anything is going bad. Imperfections and bruises may cause some things to spoil prematurely, so either discard or salvage, if possible. “One bad apple spoils a bunch” isn’t only a proverb. Ethylene is a hormone produced naturally by fruits like apples, pears and bananas (it’s also why they put green bananas in ethylene chambers before they hit store shelves). If a bruise causes an apple to rot, this accelerates the release of ethylene, which prompts others to ripen and releases more ethylene.
Also, not all varieties of a fruit or vegetable are optimal for long storage. Soft or thin-skinned Gala or Delicious (Golden or Red) apples are available sooner and do not store well. Hardier varieties for storage found locally include Cortland, Jonagold, Crispin/Matsu, Fuji and Northern Spy. As for onions, farmers will refer to some that keep well as storage or winter onions. Avoid storing onions or garlic in the refrigerator, as the very cold temperature softens the exterior.
“PUTTING UP” THE HARVEST
Many homesteaders in the area will say that they “put up two bushels of apples.” This may mean they cored, sliced and froze, or made applesauce or apple butter. The term is used to imply that something has been preserved. Practice or learn many different preservation techniques which include canning, pickling, proper freezing, fermenting, or curing with salt, sugar or smoke.
THE LIVESTOCK HARVEST
Fall is a good time to stock up on locally grown meat as well. Although you may see your favorite cuts of meat available in the grocery store year-round, traditionally, WNY farmers choose to butcher more animals when green pastures turn brown and they anticipate a snowy winter. Animals may also be at their best health while still active and grazing, which can then improve the meat.
Since the late 19th century, many have chosen to freeze meat, but some still turn to more traditional or artisanal means to preserve the harvest. Curing refers to preserving meats or fish in various ways including the use of salts, nitrites, nitrates and/or sugar. This, along with cooking or smoking, will draw out moisture, making it hard for microbes to grow and cause spoilage. Once an act of increasing food security, curing meats in the modern world is a means to honor cultural traditions as well as to reach optimized flavor or texture. Some chefs, like Chef Ross Warhol of Oliver’s in North Buffalo, choose to take full control of this process. They butcher and even cure meats in house for use in specialty dishes and charcuterie boards.
Whatever you’re planning for your plate, look locally first, and savor the phenomenal variety of foods available close to home during harvest season.