For many folks, farmers' markets begin and end with the summer. And to be sure, warm weather months do produce many of the fruits and vegetables that draw big crowds. But if you're a summer-only shopper, I strongly encourage you to keep those canvas bags handy a few months longer. When fall kicks in, bins will be chock-full of fresh produce such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage, greens, apples, and pears. The flavorful recipes wheedled out of these cool-weather gems are magical.
The tips for shopping at the market and getting the most bang for your buck are the same regardless of the season. Go early to find the best produce. Bring cash. Scope out the entire market before making your final choices—prices and types of produce vary among farmers and vendors. Educate yourself and your kids by asking questions about tests for ripeness and how to cook, especially if you're new to a particular vegetable. If you don't plan to go straight home, take a cooler so temperature-sensitive produce won't spoil in a warm car—even in the fall.
Cooking methods also begin a seasonal transition as we start to rely less on grilling and sautéing, and move toward roasting and braising. Oven roasting is a dry heat method that gently coaxes out, then caramelizes natural sugars. Sweet potatoes, apples, pears, cauliflower, and butternut squash are perfectly suited for this method. Braising is a moist heat method that slowly breaks down firm or tough vegetables into tender submission, and is ideal for collard greens, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and fennel. Braising also has the added benefit of producing a delicious, nutrient rich broth. Both cooking methods generally pair better with robust herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and sage.
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