While window designers struggle into cabs with 100-pound pumpkins for their autumn displays, cooks can bring home the big flavors of roots, tubers, mushrooms, apples, and pears.
What to Look For
Sweet, diminutive blush-and-dun-colored Seckel pears are juicy and smooth-textured right now, with lemon and peppermint notes excellent for eating raw, arranging in still lifes, or baking (recipe) ($1.50 per pound at Caradonna, available Wednesday and Saturday).
Gold Ball turnips, big and yellow, resemble rutabagas, and they have a more concentrated, earthy flavor than spring turnips. Braise them with a little stock or soy sauce and savor their sweet, moist crunch ($1.60 per pound at Keith's Farm, available Wednesday and Saturday).
Sucrine lettuce is a French Bibb variety that took its time growing this year, and now it's all ready at once. The silken leaves have a sweet grassiness and enough character and crunch to stand up to hearty salad ingredients like nuts, blue cheese, and pears (recipe) ($2.50 per quarter-pound at Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, available Wednesday and Saturday).
Rhode Island Greening apples are a green American variety that dates back to the Colonial era. More tender than Granny Smiths, their intensely tart white flesh is full of flavor and juice. Supplies are limited, so stock up they keep well in the fridge and have the tang and sturdy texture that makes for superb pies ($1.50 per pound at Locust Grove, available Wednesday and Saturday).
Pear cider is milder and more floral than apple cider, and its delicate flavor goes along swimmingly with sparkling wine or hard spirits in seasonal cocktails ($4 per half-gallon at Locust Grove, available Wednesday and Saturday).
Blink and You'll Miss It
Wild maitake, a.k.a. hen-of-the-woods, is a bracket-type mushroom that shows up at the foot of trees after the kind of rainy fall weather we had last week. They're exorbitantly priced, unpredictably stocked, and you may need a toothbrush and running water to clean them. But cook slices in a hot pan and the result is savory and loamy-tasting with a rich, meaty chew (recipe) ($25 per pound at Violet Hill Farm, available Saturday).