Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Fall Flavors More Than Just Pumpkin Spice
We are right in the thick of the fall and with the season's biggest holiday right around the corner. So I am sure by now everyone has had their fill of pumpkin spice. It began simply enough with the now infamous pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. But has really gotten out of hand now. I've seen pumpkin spice hand soap for goodness sake! Enough is enough. The really sad thing about it is that fall has so much more to offer than just pumpkin and pumpkin spice. Don't get me wrong, I like a slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and all, but I just want people to realize there is so much more out there than that.
With the pumpkin dominating the scene now we have forgotten about an important staple of the fall food entourage. I'm talking about the apple. With over 7,500 varieties known to exist the noble apple is as versatile a fruit as they come. They can be eaten raw, cooked, dried or candied. They can be made into jelly, jam, butter, sauce or marmalade. Certain varieties of apples are prefect for pies, cakes, muffins and other desserts. They are also made into beverages such as juice and alcoholic and non alcoholic cider. Although the apple is traditionally in season during the fall, a diversification of sources as well as modern technology have made apples available all year long. So don't overlook the apple this fall. Doing so would be un-American.
Next on my list of fall flavors is mushrooms. Although mushrooms are available all year long, many of the more exotic varieties are at their peak in fall and winter. Mushrooms can be purchased fresh, dried, canned or frozen. They are usually sold whole or sliced. Fresh mushrooms should be cleaned before being consumed as they are grown in dirt. In order to clean mushrooms it is best to rinse them clean and then immediately use them. Mushrooms can be prepared with just about any cooking method. Mushrooms are a perfect addition to a variety of dishes. They go well with meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish.
Another classic fall flavor that has been relegated to the background or is just an afterthought at your Thanksgiving meal is the cranberry. Because of their high acidity, cranberries are rarely eaten raw. They are best when cooked and incorporated into dishes or made into sauces or juices. Cranberries are great for the bakery, often made into muffins, pies and cobblers. Cranberries work well when paired with other fruit that is less tart. Cranberries also work well paired with meat, especially poultry and pork,
Dark leafy greens are also on my list of foods available in the fall. Things like kale, greens are chard are grown in warmer climates during the colder months of the year. These vegetables are great for a variety of different uses and packed with all sorts of nutrients and vitamins. I go into more detail in an article I have written earlier.
Although they are sometimes the stuff of children's culinary nightmares, Brussels sprouts can be quite tasty if prepared the right way. These sprouts are in the peak of their season from September through February. Brussels sprouts, unlike other members of the cabbage family are only eaten cooked. That being said, Brussels sprouts lend themselves well to a myriad of cooking methods, including frying, sauteing, roasted, or even steamed. Brussels sprouts are best when cooked in some kind of fat (especially bacon) and paired with something sweet to counter the their bitterness.
Although these tubers are available all year long, they are best in the fall when the fresh crop comes in. Sweet potatoes (even if they are not really a potato) are great because of their versatility. They work well for both savory and sweet dishes. They can be just another ingredient or be the star of the show. Sweet potatoes can and are cooked exactly like their non sweet counterparts. They can be boiled, baked, fried, steamed or sauteed.
Next on the list is a fruit most people would not have thought about. The pomegranate is one of the world's oldest fruits. Its peak season is from October to January so it is important to take advantage while they are available. If it is not the seed of the pomegranate that is being eaten, then it is the juice of the fruit. The seeds are usually eaten raw are are a way to add color and sweetness to everything from salads, soups, sauces, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, poultry, to fish and seafood.
We have our neighbors to the north to thank for our next fall flavor. Maple syrup is basically just the sap of certain species of maple trees that has been reduced down and purified. The sap is collected at the end of winter, between January and April, when the days are warm enough to melt snow, but the nights are cold enough to keep the trees from budding. Maple syrup's most iconic use is over pancakes. However it can be used as a replacement sweetener for sugar or as a flavoring. Maple syrup's uses are not limited to only desserts and other sweet applications. Maple syrup can be an additive or flavoring for certain savory dishes and it pairs well with pork and poultry.
While pumpkin receives the majority of the attention this season it is important to not forget that there are other gorgeous gourds out there worthy of our attention. Collectively known as winter squashes, this group includes butternut, acorn, kabocha, delicata as well as other varieties. Winter squash hit the markets around late September and stick around through early March, although they are at their prime during fall and winter. Winter squash needs to cooked before being eaten and has tough outer skins that are inedible. Winter squash can be roasted, sauteed, steamed, or boiled. Squashes are excellent for making soup. Another squash I want to include is the spaghetti squash. It is technically not a winter squash, but it is in season during the fall and winter. Spaghetti squash gets its name from the fact that its flesh can be separated into spaghetti like strands after it is cooked. Spaghetti squash is best baked until tender. The separated flesh can than be seasoned and served as is, or it can be further cooked by sauteing it.
I would be remiss if I did not at least bring up spices. I know the general premise of this post is about not falling into the trap of believing that fall is all bout pumpkin spice. But that does not mean we can abandon all the spices from fall. Most of our favorite foods would "fall" flat without them. So indeed, fall is much more than pumpkin spice which is really just a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and ginger in a 2:1:1:1:1 ratio. These spices can be cast into such larger roles. They should not just be pigeon holed into being only for pumpkin pies or pumpkin flavored foods. Spices seem like such a generic fall flavor, but spiced drinks and foods are comforting and warming. And sugar doesn’t always have to accompany the spice. These spices work just as well with savory sides and main dishes. So just because you are over the whole pumpkin spice trend, don't give up in these spices altogether.
There are so many more fall flavors that I could write about. In fact I am sure there are entire books and cookbooks dedicated to the subject. The point of this post was just to get people to realize that fall has such a great potential for delicious food when you get past the pumpkin spice and especially when you start combining some of these fabulous fall flavors!