Fall Produce Buying Guide

Cool weather inevitably brings a sense of mourning to our loss of fresh (and cheap) berries and melons. What's left are gourds, squash, and virtually nothing sweet. Fear not, produce lover. The fall holds some nice surprises--you just need to know how to look for them.  Check out the best fruits and veggies for your buck and tips on how to select the best of the bunch.

The forbidden fruit is in high supply during these crisp, cool months.  Orchards are abloom with ripe, tasty varieties and they cost the least during the fall.  Pick apples that have a robust color, are firm, and don't have any bruises.  The best feature of the apple is it's shelf life--they last up to two weeks (sometimes more) in the refrigerator.  My personal flavor favorite for a snack is the Honey Crisp variety.  Granny Smith are great for cooking while Golden Delicious make great pies and apple sauce.
Best Apple Recipes: Slow Cooker Apple Sauce, Apple Pie

It never seems like a lot of fun to make broccoli.  This great-for-you food just never has a wow taste and always seems to lack something.  To maximize the flavor of your broccoli, pick stalks that have dark green florets.  Avoid any yellowing or whitish bunches.  A stalk will last up to five, maybe six days--if your leaves are wilted or the stalks are wiggly, it's well past it's prime.  For the best steaming and sautéing, try to cut your florets as uniform as possible.  For a quick dressing, mix red wine, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt, and pepper and pour over slightly cooled steamed broccoli.
Best Broccoli Recipes: Broccoli and Rice Casserole

Butternut Squash
A ripe butternut squash adds a flavorful punch to any fall dinner.  Plus, squash stay ripe for up to a month in a cool dry place (not the fridge), which takes a lot of pressure off a cook.  For the best texture, cut the squash in half, take out the seeds, and bake at 400Ëš like a baked potato.  Add some butter, cinnamon, and sugar to make an easy squash casserole.  
Best Butternut Squash Recipes: Butternut Squash Bisque

Who said the sweets were on hiatus?  Grapes are ripe and out in force.  The best way to pick good grapes is to select a bunch with a nice, even color and firm feel.  If they already feel mushy at the store, you'll need to eat them within two days.  Good, plump grapes will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.  Most of us keep grapes for an easy snack or after dinner sweet, but you can also roast them with pork chops and chicken.  For a sweet, eye-candy treat or wine tasting accompaniment, dip a washed bunch of grapes in water, roll in sugar, and free for 30 minutes.
Best Grape Recipes: Grape Salad

Don't discount the mushroom!  If you've never enjoyed this friendly fungus, take a walk on the wild side and give it another go.  Pick whole mushrooms, not sliced, that are firm with smooth skin.  Steer clear of slimy or flexible varieties, which have already begun the decent to the trashcan.  Store cleaned mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator as they have a short shelf life--4 days at the most.  Sautee in white wine or olive oil until dark brown and add a dash of garlic, salt, and pepper.  
Best Mushroom Recipes: Bacon and Cream Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Pears make me nervous.  I was never quite sure how to select a good one and, with a 50% success rate, would rather avoid them all together.  My grocer imparted some great wisdom--a shiny, waxy coat indicates an unripe pear.  Go for specimens that have a dull color.  They can still ripen at home over 2-5 days.  A pear is ready to eat when it is slight soft near the skin.  Like bananas, pears brown very quickly, so wait as long as you can to cut them and add lemon juice to avoid unsightly color.  Pears taste great halved and baked in the oven served with vanilla and cinnamon.  They may also be poached in water.  
Best Pear Recipes: Baked Pears with Ice Cream

Sweet Potatoes
I'm avoiding tips for regular potatoes--most of us know how to work a brown spud.  But the sweet potatoes may be a bit more foreign.  They are sweeter and make the cut as a super food!  Because of their higher sugar content sweet potatoes won't last as long on the shelf as an Idaho or new potato.  Although we use sweet potato interchangeably with yams, they are actually a different food.  Yams have a thicker skin and aren't readily available in North America.  Keep them in a cool, dry place, if possible--not in the refrigerator.  Bake at 375Ëš for an hour or more for a creamy, moist inside.  Serve plain or with a pat of butter and cinnamon.
Best Sweet Potato Recipes: Sweet Potato Pie

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