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Produce to fall for

Autumn brings new delights to local farmers markets

Gala, Golden Delicious, Braeburn and other apple varieties at the Menlo Park farmers market on Sunday, Sept. 24. Photo by John Kadvany.

While fall is not quite in the air yet, the season's produce is starting to show up at local farmers markets.

Farm stands that have been overflowing with summer stone fruits and tomatoes are starting to fill in with squash, apples, nuts and more.

"We are always sorry to say goodbye to summer, but there's so much variety here that we just rush right along," said Eva Heninwolf, president of the downtown Palo Alto farmers market.

Given the climate of this area, an "extended late summer" means produce such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will persist into October, Heninwolf said.

But with last Friday marking the first official day of fall, new crops of fruits and vegetables are making their way to the Palo Alto farmers market.

"Grapes are really big right now, apples are really big right now, pears are really big," Heninwolf said "These are all the traditional autumn fruits."

Pomegranates and persimmons are also coming in, she said. Look for Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons -- the former a crisp variety shaped like a beefsteak tomato and the latter a more elongated Japanese variety.

Kayla Haden, manager of the Mountain View farmers market, said she's awaiting her "specialty persimmon guy" -- Jeff Rhodes of Rhodes Family Farms in the Central Valley -- to arrive in the next few weeks with his Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons. The farm grows persimmons, tomatoes and pomegranates; persimmons and pomegranates are usually ready the last week in September, according to the farm's website.

The Hachiya is "astringent," best eaten fully ripe and is good for baking, according to the farm. (Head to epersimmons.com/recipes for Rhodes Family Farms' endless persimmon recipes, from persimmon bread and cookies to curried persimmon soup.)

Pears, dates and figs are also in season through the fall.

For vegetables, fall (and winter) above all means the arrival of squash, from butternut and delicata to more unusual varieties such as red and blue kuri squash.

"If you need to get a meal on the table quickly, you can simply bake one of these squash (cut it in half to make it bake more quickly), and take it out of the oven when it is soft all the way through, ready to serve," reads a recent newsletter from Full Belly Farm, a Guinda-based vendor at the downtown Palo Alto market.

In the fall, there's also a new crop of late-season potatoes, Heninwolf said, including purple, red rose, Yukon golds, German butterballs and French fingerlings. Later in the season are rutabagas, which Heninwolf likes to mash up, either by themselves or with potatoes in equal measure.

She said she also starts making carrot soups in the fall.

"We get a second crack at carrots," she said. "Carrots get better and sweeter again in the fall because the cool temperatures bring out the sweetness."

Nuts will make their debut soon. Haden said walnuts will arrive at the Mountain View market after harvest in October. Heninwolf suggested keeping an eye out at local markets for whole nuts, such as pecans. She puts bowls of them on the dining room table for a way to wind down after meals.

"You sit around after dinner with a nutcracker, eating and talking," she said. "It's a really lovely time of year, and that's definitely a fall thing."

While summer produce is largely best left untouched -- simple salads or dishes that require little oven use in the warmer months -- the fall months spell a return to more substantial foods, flavors and cooking approaches. Root vegetables are prime for roasting, as are squash, which Heninwolf likes to roast whole with just butter, salt and pepper.

Hearty vegetables such as artichoke, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, celery and endive will also be at local markets through the fall and into the winter.

For many, the end of summer also means preserving time. At Happy Quail Farms in East Palo Alto, which primarily grows peppers, owner David Winsberg goes straight to pickling, preserving and sauce-making as the fresh produce season starts to taper off. He makes a variety of sauces (sold locally at the Menlo Park farmers market) with minimal added ingredients to let the flavor of the peppers speak for itself. There's the smoky cayenne sauce, with dried and smoked guajllo peppers, onion, garlic and apple cider vinegar; a relish with just peppers, onions, vinegars and salt; and a salsa-like sauce with mulatto peppers and cilantro.

LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS

California Avenue, Palo Alto: Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at California Avenue and El Camino Real; uvfm.org/palo-alto-sundays

Downtown Palo Alto: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon, at Gilman Street and Hamilton Avenue; pafarmersmarket.org

East Palo Alto: Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Ravenswood Family Health Center, 1885 Bay Road; collectiveroots.org/farmers-market

Mountain View: Sundays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Mountain View Caltrain station, 600 West Evelyn Ave. (relocated on San Francisco 49ers home-game days; check cafarmersmkts.com for information)

Menlo Park: Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the parking lot between Chestnut Street between Santa Cruz and Menlo avenues; localharvest.org

Portola Valley: Thursdays, 2-6 p.m. (5 p.m. in winter), at 765 Portola Road; pvfarmersmarket.com

Redwood City: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon, at 500 Arguello St.; facebook.com/RedwoodCityKiwanisFarmersMarket

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