by Jolene Lamb, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
This week we flip the calendar to September, for those of us that still flip an actual paper calendar, and for me that means the unofficial start of the fall season. For others, pumpkin spice season begins. I enjoy the spiced flavor trend to which Starbucks is frequently credited with skyrocketing with the introduction of its pumpkin spice latte back in 2003. Surprisingly, most pumpkin spice food is not actually the flavor of pumpkin, which itself doesn’t have much flavor, but a blend of cinnamon, cloves, dried ginger and sometimes nutmeg and mace, or the spices added to typical baked pumpkin dishes. So while some may love the craze and try everything pumpkin spice, even the new pumpkin spiced SPAM, others are opposed or indifferent. For the latter, this article is for you. There are a lot of fall flavors out there, so let’s give them the attention they deserve!
#1 Apples. Fall is apple season in central Illinois. Fall apples are crisp, sweet and delicious. Apples are more than just a food, they’re an outdoor adventure. On a cool, sunny day, visit a local orchard and pick a bushel. You can turn them into pies and cakes, caramel dipped or candied, even pulverized to sauce and cider. Apples are pretty versatile and when you combine them with cinnamon, you have an iconic fall flavor.
#2 Cranberry. Every September in Warrens, Wisconsin an annual festival dedicated to the cranberry takes place. Cranfest is in its 47th year. The festival organizers put out an annual cookbook of recipes that feature frozen and fresh cranberry recipes. I think the cranberry is often overlooked and underutilized, especially in the fall. We expect to find it as a side dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but a fresh fall cranberry recipe as a main dish is something unexpected and a great way to embrace fall flavors. One of my new favorites, adapted from Bon Appetite is listed below.
#3 Maple. Say the word maple and I can actually hear the wind rustle through the falling leaves! Which is why it might be surprising to some to learn that maple syrup is actually harvested in the early spring. Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup (their preferred spelling of the word) Farm’s in Shirley, Ill. harvest typically begins in mid-February or March, and lasts four to six weeks. As temperatures warm during the day, sap stored in the roots of the trees begins to flow up through the trunk. The freezing and thawing temps of spring causes the sap to run through a spout that was drilled into the tree after the winter snow melted. So why do we think of maple as a fall flavor? Because maple flavor brings with it so many possibilities: natural maple syrup on hot pancakes, maple cake, maple scones, maple muffins, maple pecan pie. The list is filled with sweet baked goods that pair perfect with crisp fall days.
#4 Pears. I feel apples tend to steal the spotlight in the fall and the pear is forgotten on the tree. But why? Pears are awesome. If you’re not enjoying fresh pears during October and November, you’re missing out. Eat them plain and enjoy their natural sweetness, bake them into desserts, use them to sweeten a salad, or make pear butter instead of apple butter! You can also mix pear with cinnamon, ginger, apples, pomegranates or cranberries if you want to be extra festive this fall.
#5 Butternut squash. Eat your vegetables! You can use squash for soups, salads and pastas. Roasted, baked or pureed, squash is so versatile it doesn’t seem like an ordinary vegetable, more like a super vegetable. Don’t worry if you don’t like butternut, there are other squash options: acorn squash, spaghetti squash and zucchini. I also found a new-to-me variety last year at the farmers’ market: honeynut squash. At first glance, honeynut squash just looks like a shrunken butternut squash. But it’s more than that—the sweet, petite squash has only been in existence for less than a decade and has just recently started showing up at farmers’ markets. I’m loving this squash because of its small size; it works well when cooking for one or two.
Autumn Stuffed Squash
You can serve this as a fall flavored side dish or a vegetarian main course. It is packed with the fall flavors of apples, pears, cranberries, pecans, cinnamon and maple.
1 butternut or acorn squash
2 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
¼ cup of fresh cranberries
½ cup diced apple or pear or both
¼ cup rolled oats
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
¼ cup toasted pecans
Halve the butternut or acorn squash lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Brush the flesh with a mixture of melted butter and maple syrup.
In a small bowl, mix together cinnamon and brown sugar and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine cranberries, peeled apple or pear, oats and pecans.Toss with cinnamon sugar blend.
Spoon mixture into squash halves, dividing equally, and dot with 2 Tbsp. butter.
Bake in a casserole dish in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until nicely browned, then cover with foil and bake until squash is tender, 25-30 minutes longer. Let cool slightly before serving.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.