We don’t really see changing seasons much here in California. But we do enjoy changing produce as summer fruits and vegetables disappear, giving way to the fall harvest.
Here in San Francisco, our markets are all about apples, figs, pears, winter squash and root vegetables like beets and turnips.
I’ve gathered some selection and storage tips, with recipes from the Special Fork database, of some of our fall favorites.
How to select: Squeeze apples gently; there shouldn’t be much “give,” a sign that the apple is old and spongy. Look for apples that are heavy for their size. Apples should smell lightly fragrant. Select apple varieties according to intended use—baking, eating out of hand, for applesauce and so forth. When choosing apples for a pie, it’s a good idea to have a mixture of baking apples: sweet and tart ones for flavor balance; and tender and firm ones for a balance of texture. There are so many varieties of apples, many regional, that it’s best to ask the farmer at the farmers’ market or the produce clerk in the supermarket to help you pick appropriate types for your use.
How to store: Refrigerate apples in a tightly closed plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Apples should keep for several months. Since apples like humidity, you can line the drawer with damp paper towels for extra moisture, if you like.
Special Fork recipe to try: Bourbon Fried Apples, a recipe by Chef John Harasty from the Haydon Street Inn in Healdsburg, California.
How to select: Beets like the cool seasons of spring and fall. Beets should be heavy for their size. Look for small to medium beets; they are generally tenderer than larger ones. Baby beets may not even need peeling. Roots should be firm and not withered; leaves should be green and fresh. Avoid beets with bruised areas or wet spots.
How to store: Trim off the leaves, leaving an inch of stem. Refrigerate beets in a plastic bag, where they will keep up to three weeks. Don’t throw the beet greens away. Store them in a separate plastic bag. Cut up the leaves and steam or stir-fry them.
Special Fork recipe to try: Classic Roasted Beets by Lori Powell.
How to Select: Fresh figs should feel plump and heavy and give slightly under gentle pressure; figs will not ripen after being picked so reject the hard, unripe ones. If figs seem a little squishy they are bordering on being overripe so use them immediately. Check to make sure figs are not moldy or have soft spots.
How to Store: Store figs in a single layer on a plate or small cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap, to keep them from drying out. Fresh figs are very perishable and bruise easily so be careful when handling and storing. Keep figs refrigerated at temperatures between 32° to 36° F. Use figs as soon as possible—in a couple of days is best. Under ideal conditions, fresh figs have been known to keep for as long as a week.
Special Fork recipe to try: Caramelized Onion, Fig and Blue Cheese Tartlets.
How to select: Look for pears that are firm but not too hard and have smooth, unblemished skins free of bruises and soft spots. Pears are harvested when mature, but not yet ripe, so they need to be stored at room temperature, where they will ripen from the inside out. Most varieties will show little change in color to indicate ripeness, so to test if your pear is ripe, apply gentle pressure to the neck of the pear (stem end) with your thumb. If it yields to the pressure, the pear is ripe.
How to store: Store ripe pears in a plastic bag and refrigerate to slow the ripening process; use within five days. Never refrigerate an unripe pear; the cold will retard ripening. Tip: to hasten ripening, store pears in a closed paper bag on your counter with a fruit that gives off ethylene gas naturally, such as bananas.
Special Fork recipe to try: Endive Salad with Pears.
How to select: Hubbard, kabocha, acorn squash and delicata are only a few of the many varieties of winter squash. Look for squash with tight, unwrinkled skin. Squash should not have any “give” when pressed. Most winter squashes have a tough skin, making them difficult to cut. If you don’t want to struggle with cutting them up, choose thinner-skinned squash like delicata or butternut. (If you have a hard time cutting a thick-skinned winter squash, you can microwave or bake it whole just until it is soft enough to cut with a sharp, long knife.)
How to store: Stored in a cool, dry place, winter squash will last for a few weeks or over several months.
Special Fork recipe to try: Squash and Goat Cheese Risotto with Fried Sage Leaves by Katie Barreira.
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