Fresh this Fall

    Markets, Foods, and Family Tips

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    As summer winds down, I have found that most people think the peak harvest time for fruits and vegetables in Virginia comes to an end, too. Many of our wonderful farmers’ markets may see fewer visitors, but there is still so much goodness to enjoy at peak freshness in September, and even later.

    All fruits and vegetables have a window of time when they are at their best to enjoy.  Those windows are lengthened or shortened most of the time by weather. This year, the peach harvest took a hard hit with a late frost, and resulted in a very low turnout of peaches in the area.

    My children often ask for strawberries in September or apples in June. I usually remind them that we can buy those items in a store year-round, but they are going to taste the best if we enjoy them in their season of peak freshness in Virginia. When items are at their peak, enjoy them as much as you can in a variety of ways. Be flexible when cooking with what’s in season. If it calls for mustard greens, try the recipe with kale if that’s what you have on hand. Items within the same family usually can be interchangeable.

    Several years ago, our family set a goal to eat more in-season vegetables, rather than automatically picking up our go-to vegetables from the grocery store. What happened surprised me. We got outside more by frequenting farmers’ markets, and we tried growing our own vegetables. We also signed up for a few local CSA (community supported agriculture) pickup and delivery services. For us, the result was children who are willing to try new foods, especially when they are involved in the preparing and cooking process. Now some of our kids’ favorites are grilled onions, roasted turnips, and kale chips.

    What fruits and vegetables can you find in September in Virginia?

    Asian Pears Juicy like a pear, but crisp like an apple. Asian pears add a nice crunch tossed into a salad. Also try thin slices on a grilled cheese sandwich. The skin can be eaten, but it can be tough, so trim it off, if preferred.

    Apples Try a bread-less peanut butter sandwich by spreading peanut butter between two apple rings. Cut an apple cross-wise in thin slices, and then remove the core so it looks like a bagel to create the rings. Remember to store apples in a separate area of the counter from other produce or in a plastic bag if in the fridge. Apples release ethylene gas that will make other produce brown or ripen faster.

    Arugula Add a kick to your salads with the peppery taste of arugula. Apple and pear chunks with a light vinaigrette tossed with arugula make a simple light salad for lunch or a dinner starter. Greens should be stored in a bag with the least amount of moisture possible. Wait to wash your greens until right before using. Also, try adding a paper towel or two to the bag of greens to help absorb any moisture.

    Green Tomatoes Best enjoyed breaded and fried, green tomatoes are more firm and less juicy than regular tomatoes. For a simple green tomato salsa, add diced onion, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper. Enjoy on top of grilled chicken or fish. If you are grilling, add a few thick slices of green tomatoes to the grill, then season with salt and pepper.

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    Ashley Gates
    Ashley Gates manages the logistics of connecting families with good food at Dominion Harvest, a local home delivery service committed to providing families with fresh, local products. She lives in Bon Air with her husband and five kids.