Corn is sadly gone from the farmers markets. In fact, you won’t find a single ear. Tomatoes are at a low ebb — the ones for sale are often misshapen and mushy, in pallid shades that won’t ripen further if you take them home. No more foraged ramps, and green beans are mainly departed; the ones you can find are woody and require long boiling. Green tomatoes, however, are readily available, but more about that later.
In general, the fruits and vegetables we relished during the spring and summer are now long gone. But there’s no denying that great products are still to be had as the harvest season wanes. In fact, for many, this is the best time in the farmers markets. This past Saturday, I visited the Union Square Greenmarket to check out what is still available.
Note that in the run-up to Thanksgiving, the market will be open not only Monday and Wednesday, but Tuesday as well, for one week only. After this week it reverts to its usual Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday schedule. Pandemic restrictions remain in effect: customers must wear a mask (market employees stand at the entrances reminding people of this); a six-foot distance between shoppers must be maintained, with orderly lines leading to individual stands; and customers are not allowed to touch produce before buying it.
The best news is that we’re at peak apple season, with many vendors specializing in them. I counted 28 varieties for sale, most priced at $2 to $3.50 per pound. There were commercial apples known to all, new hybrids with a firm texture that are also sweeter and longer lasting, and heirloom apples rarely seen for sale, some of which go back centuries. Here’s a list of apples I found, in no particular order:
Empire, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Arkansas, Honeycrisp, Winesap, Mutsu, Lady Apple, Cameo, Jonagold, Fuji, Suncrisp, Gala, Ginger Gold, Macoun, Evercrisp, Black Twig, Gold Rush, Spy Gold, Braeburn, Northern Spy, Ida Red, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Cortland, and Rome Beauty.
How many have you tried? Due to the pandemic, cut-up samples are no longer displayed. If you want advice on how they taste, don’t hesitate to ask the farmers and their sales assistants, who tend to get enthusiastic when they talk about apple varieties. My favorites are strong and sweet Winesap, tart McIntosh, and Black Twig, a variety introduced in Tennessee orchards in 1830 with an interesting loamy flavor. In addition to eating the fruit raw or pairing it with cheese, think about baking with apples. Though making a pie can be time-consuming, an apple crisp can be whipped up in just a few minutes.
Also at the height of the season are the winter squashes, with around 10 varieties in the market now, in addition to the ubiquitous pumpkin. Butternut and acorn squashes are the best known, with the former a bit easier to handle; when cutting the latter, watch out for your fingers. The big boy among the squashes is the Hubbard, which boasts a bumpy skin, pear shape, and a delicate seafoam green color. But the squash of the moment remains the delicata, a yellow number with lengthwise green stripes. In addition to the delicate flavor suggested by the name, the primary feature is that the skin can be eaten — no peeling! Cut into slices, deseed, and saute in butter or olive oil, or roast with apples.
In addition to apples and winter squashes, several other vegetables are coming into their prime at this late point in the growing season. Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are flooding the market, looking something like ginger in color and shape. They’re a good source of iron and other vitamins and minerals. Sunchokes may be used raw in a salad, steamed, or boiled and mashed like potatoes (or even mashed with potatoes). Roasting or sauteing also work. It’s a very versatile vegetable.
Brussels sprouts are now in season, too. Yes, you can buy them on the stalk, which is very picturesque, but cutting individual heads off the stalk and then getting rid of it is a pain in the ass. Instead, buy ones that are sold destalked. The smaller the Brussels sprout, the tenderer it is. That goes for other autumnal vegetables for sale, too, like broccoli and cauliflower. The latter now comes in three colors, including purple and deep yellow. Only some of this color will survive cooking, so think about serving these cauliflowers raw, as crudité with a yogurt-based dip.
Finally, we have a cousin of broccoli, the romanesco. This weird-looking green vegetable has a taste midway between cauliflower and broccoli; some say it acquires a slight anchovy flavor when steamed. Accordingly, use it in a stir-fry, cut up to preserve the geometric appearance. At Thanksgiving, it invariably ends up as a table centerpiece, especially among mathematicians, who analyze the vegetable’s fractal nature.
And what about those green tomatoes? The ones that remained hard and never turned red because the temperatures dipped too low? Cut them, bread them, and fry them in the traditional Southern manner. They can also be used as a replacement for tomatillos in a salsa verde, or finely minced to make a chutney. Go ahead: Late autumn is the perfect time for experimentation with the farmers markets’ ever-surprising array, which is as abundant and varied as it is earlier in the year.