Winter squashes of every shape, size and color crowd market stalls, including large, gray-green Hubbards; oval, pale yellow spaghetti squashes; reddish orange and green turbans shaped like their name implies; tan butternuts; and bright orange pumpkins ranging from tiny ones no bigger than a child's hand to huge specimens suitable for jack-o'-lanterns. Thanks to their hard shells, all winter squashes have excellent keeping qualities, making them ideal candidates for the pantry.
A wide variety of mushrooms, the sole offering of some market vendors, is available this time of year. Broccoli rabe and radishes are in season now, too. Artichokes return briefly for a second harvest. And the last of the tender, early season crops give way to their mature kin—fennel, potatoes and root vegetables are good examples.
Autumn fruits provide that same sense of sustenance. Trees hang heavy with apples and pears. They show up in farmers’ markets in sometimes bewildering variety. Be sure to ask individual vendors about the characteristics of each and which are best for eating out of hand or cooking. Persimmons and pomegranates are also available this time of year. The grape harvest that started in summer continues into autumn, with seedless table varieties such as Ruby and Thompson easily found. Fresh dates and certain types of figs, particularly the sweet, purple-black Mission variety, are at their best now.
Among other seasonal specialties is a generous new crop of nuts, ready to add crunch and rich flavor to a variety of recipes. As ocean waters grow cool, seafood stalls will begin to offer some shellfish and many excellent fresh and saltwater finfish. Turkey, duck and game birds also appear, ready to grace holiday tables.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series Cooking from the Farmers' Market by Georgeanne Brennan, 0-7370-2013-x, (Time-Life Books, 1999)