One of my favorite things about fall is the autumn harvest. Starting with the two stars of the season, apples and pumpkins, here’s a little heads up about the fruits and vegetables now in season. I say “may” when I’m touting the virtues of each fruit or vegetable because there are multiple studies about the nutritional values and benefits of consuming certain foods and it seems each study has its own “superfood.” I’ve also included a few warnings because too much of a good thing can be bad for you. If you have an upcoming surgical procedure, be sure to carefully read information about foods or supplements to avoid before surgery.
Try these fruits and vegetables at their peak of freshness. You might find a new favorite.
Apples are a moderate source of fiber and low in fat and calories making them a delicious snack or part of a healthy meal. There are over 7,500 known cultivars of apples. Some varieties of apples are used for cooking, while others are best eaten raw or pressed to make cider. According to a recent article by Chris Morocco on bonappetit.com, in addition to Granny Smith which is the usual go to favorite apple of most bakers, the best apples for baking are Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Mutsu, Winesap, and the Pink Lady. If I’m making apple pie, I like to mix in a few different apples to balance tartness and sweetness.
For eating, my late mother-in-law insisted you couldn’t beat the flavor and crunch of a tart Granny Smith apple. I prefer Fuji, Braeburn, Gala, or Golden Delicious apples while my mom always reaches for a McIntosh.
My research on cider apples led me to throw my hands up in defeat. Apparently, apples from Europe grown on hundred year old cider specific fruit trees are superior to the “table apples” grown in the states. It has something to do with Prohibition when cider specific fruit trees were largely abandoned by American growers in favor of apples meant to be cooked or eaten raw. So, commercial American cider is a mix of cider apples and Gala, Golden Delicious or Granny Smiths. Luckily, because of the current popularity of cider, hundreds of acres of cider trees are being planted each year in the U.S, so there’s hope.
Pumpkins are cultivars of the squash family and are native to North America; however, most of the worlds’ pumpkin crops are now grown in China and India. Pumpkins can be used for fall decorations or Halloween jack-o-lanterns, eaten roasted or mashed, used as a main ingredient in soups or purees, baked into delicious pies or quick breads and the seeds can be roasted for a delicious snack. Pumpkins that are small and still green can be eaten in the same way as zucchini or squash. In China and parts of Africa, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are often used in soups or eaten as a cooked vegetable. In Mexico and the southwestern U.S., flowers of pumpkin and squash plants are popular used as a garnish or dipped in batter and fried in oil. Pumpkin is rich in pro-vitamin A beta-carotene and vitamin A and a moderate source of vitamin C. A pumpkin is 92% water, and its juice is sometimes added to beverages.
Beets, which I like to call nature’s healthy candy, are rich source of folate and a moderate source of manganese. Beets may help lower blood pressure and may help prevent heart and liver diseases. Nitrates found in beets may also slightly improve endurance during athletic pursuits and may help prevent dementia. Beet greens (leaves) are delicious in salads. The actual beet root can be eaten raw, steamed or pickled. Beetroots can be used as a dye or for medicinal purposes in addition to being eaten. Sugar can be made from the sugar beet.
Brussels sprouts are higher in vitamins C and K when eaten raw. They are a moderate source of B vitamins – folic acids and vitamin B6 may have cancer preventing properties, but Brussels sprouts lose some of their vitamin B if boiled, so if you’re cooking them, stick to stir frying or steaming. Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolate singrin, a compound in Sulphur, which causes them to have a stronger smell if overcooked. WARNING – people on blood thinners should avoid consuming large quantities of Brussels sprouts because of their high vitamin K content.
Cabbage is also high in vitamins K and C. It can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, braised, or pickled (sauerkraut or kimchi). When I was a kid, my mom pan-fried cabbage; boiled it, or made coleslaw.
Squash, like pumpkin, is also native to the Americas. Some gourds (also in the squash family) are native to Africa. The hard shells of gourds can be used for making pitchers, bowls, eating utensils and jewelry. I have earrings from Colombia made from pieces of gourd shells. Fall varieties of squash are low in calories, high in vitamin C and a moderate source of B6 vitamins and riboflavin.
Sweet Potatoes are nutritionally dense, rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and beta-carotene (B2, B6 and manganese). Baking enhances their vitamin C. They can be baked, boiled, grilled, roasted, mashed or pureed. They are a flavorful addition to soups and I’m a huge fan of sweet potato fries.
Cranberries are grown commercially in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, British Columbia, and Quebec. Ninety-five percent of cranberries end up being used for juice or sauce, but this colorful tart fruit is also delicious in jams or jellies and dried sweetened cranberries are popular in salads, cereals, and baked goods. Cranberries contain moderate amounts of vitamin C and manganese. Cranberry juice is often recommended to help ease the discomfort of urinary infections; however there is little clinical evidence to support claims that regular consumption of cranberry juice will prevent urinary infections. Cranberries contain polyphenols including proanthocyanidins, flavonols, and quercetin which are being studied for their possible benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system, cancer prevention and prevention/reduction of dental plaque. Warning - people on blood thinners should avoid consuming large quantities of cranberry juice or using cranberry supplements. Other potential side effects of drinking large quantities of the juice or taking supplements include nausea, increasing stomach inflammation, sugar intake or kidney stone formation.
Pears are delicious eaten raw or cooked. Pears can be canned and pear juice is often blended with the juices of other fruit in beverages. Pear cider is popular in some areas. Pears are often served with cheese or added to fresh green salads. Fresh pears are also delicious grilled. Pears are low in calories; they are 84% water and a good source of dietary fiber.
Pomegranates are rich in vitamins C, K and folate. Pomegranate juice is a popular beverage and Pomegranate seeds are a rich source of dietary fiber. Though the peeling is inedible, it yields extracts for use in dietary supplements and food preservatives.
Persimmons are actually a berry. They contain more dietary fiber than apples and are a moderate source of manganese and pro-vitamin A beta-carotene. There are three types of persimmons - astringent, non-astringent, and pollination variant non-astringent. Persimmons contain tannins which make this fruit unpalatable if eaten before it’s ripe. Astringent persimmons are best served cooked in puddings, cakes, pies or cookies, made into jams or jellies, or dried. Non-astringent persimmons have lower levels of tannins, and become sweeter when ripe making them a better choice for eating raw, adding to a fresh green salad or a cereal topping. There are three popular varieties of pollination variant non-astringent persimmons. Each is known for its particular appearance or flavor. Tsurunoko is called the chocolate persimmon because of its brown flesh. Maru is called the cinnamon persimmon because of its spicy flavor, and Hyakume is sold as “brown sugar.” Warning – persimmons should not be eaten on an empty stomach and eating unripe persimmons can cause stomach discomfort.
Quince is in the Rosaceae family with apples and pears. Aromatic and flavorful, quince is bright golden yellow peel and most resemble pears. Many varieties are too hard and tart to be eaten raw, so quince is best cooked or roasted and used for jams, marmalades, jellies or puddings. Aromatnaya and Kuganskaya quince can be eaten raw. Quince is often added to pies, puddings, or juices to enhance the flavor and aroma of other fruits. Quince is low in calories and a moderate source of vitamin C. It is one of the most popular species for deciduous bonsai specimens used in ornamental gardens.
Some information for this article was taken from:
Lehault, Chris, "Cider Apple Guide: Sharps, Sweets, and Sharp-Sweets." seriouseats.com 2017. accessed Oct. 1, 2017.
Morocco, Chris. "The Best Apples for Baking." bonappetit.com. Sept. 2017 accessed Oct.1, 2017.