As the hot days of summer slowly surrender to cooler temperatures, there's a palpable shift in the air. Leaves transform into vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold, and the scent of earth and fallen foliage wafts through the breeze. It's a season that holds a special place in the hearts of many – autumn. In the Chesapeake region, the arrival of fall heralds not just a change in weather, but also a shift in our approach to food and a renewed commitment to our mission at Our Common Table: Live. Learn. And protect the bounty of the Chesapeake.
A Season of Transition
Fall is a time of transition, both in nature and in our kitchens. The fading warmth of summer gives way to a more comfortable chill, inviting us to trade in our flip-flops for cozy sweaters and our light salads for heartier fare. But what truly makes this season extraordinary is the transformation it brings to our local food landscape.
In Maryland, our beloved Chesapeake Bay plays a vital role in our food ecosystem. As fall arrives, this vast estuary experiences shifts in water temperature and marine life behavior. Fish like striped bass, known locally as rockfish, start their annual migration down the bay. The cooler water temperatures also mean oysters become plump and delicious – a true delicacy for seafood lovers.
In-Season Produce Abounds
The changing seasons bring with them an abundance of local produce that aligns perfectly with Our Common Table's mission. In Maryland, we are blessed with a climate that offers a diverse array of fruits and vegetables throughout the year, and fall is no exception. Some of our favorite fall produce include:
Apples: Orchards across the state burst with the crisp, sweet flavors of apples. In the United States, there are over 2,500 different varieties of apples! We may be biased, but the Chesapeake region’s apple varieties are the best! They are perfect for pies, crisps, and cider. Buying local apples not only supports our farmers but also reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance shipping!
Pumpkins and Squash: Pumpkins and fall go hand in hand. Fall wouldn't be complete without the rich, earthy flavors of pumpkins, butternut squash, and acorn squash. These versatile vegetables are fantastic for roasting, soups, and even desserts. In addition to being a staple, they are also a nutrient powerhouse! Orange squash like pumpkin or butternut squash is high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives these vegetables their bright hue!
Brussels Sprouts: These mini cabbages are a favorite of the fall season. When harvested at the right time, they're sweet, nutty, and incredibly delicious when roasted with a drizzle of local honey. Not sure about Brussels sprouts due to their bitterness? Try roasting them with a fat (like olive oil) or balsamic vinegar–each helps cut the bitterness and helps the Brussels sprouts become more mellow as they cook!
Kale and Swiss Chard: Fall greens like kale and Swiss chard thrive in cooler weather, providing an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. They can be used in salads, sautés, or as a hearty addition to soups and stews. Want to up the nutrient profile of your pasta? Joan Norman of One Straw Farm taught us a great tip for this. Throw some kale into the water while cooking! The pasta will absorb some of the nutrients. Learn more in the video** below!
Root Vegetables: Carrots, beets, turnips, and sweet potatoes are fall staples. Their earthy flavors lend themselves well to soups, mashes, and roasts.
The Benefits of Eating Locally
At Our Common Table, we talk a lot about the benefits of eating locally. We are dedicated to promoting eating locally, and fall offers compelling reasons to embrace this practice! A few of our favorite reasons are:
Freshness and Flavor: Locally sourced produce is often picked at the peak of ripeness, resulting in unparalleled flavor and freshness. When you bite into a locally grown apple or enjoy a farm-fresh pumpkin, you're experiencing the true essence of the season.
Reduced Environmental Impact: Buying locally reduces the carbon footprint associated with food transportation. Locally grown food only travels a few miles from the farm to where you are purchasing it, which means fewer emissions from trucks, less packaging waste, and a more sustainable food system!
Community Building: Eating locally fosters a sense of community and connection. It enables us to get to know the people who grow our food. It strengthens our local economy and builds resilience in our food system.
Food Security: By investing in local agriculture, we contribute to a more secure food supply chain. Local farmers are less vulnerable to global disruptions, ensuring that our communities have access to fresh, nutritious food year-round.
Embracing the Fall Harvest
As the days grow shorter and the nights cooler, there's something comforting about gathering around the dinner table with dishes crafted from fall favorites. It's a time for hearty soups simmering on the stove, pumpkin pies cooling on windowsills, and the warm aroma of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg in the air.
To make the most of these fall flavors, visit your nearest farmers' market or consider joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program to access the freshest, seasonal produce available! Let's savor this new season of flavors, support our dedicated farmers, and work together towards a future where our tables are filled with delicious, locally grown food year-round. Together, we can build a more resilient, sustainable, and vibrant food system for all.
Let’s get cooking!
*Chesapeake Farm & Bay to Table was produced in partnership with Harford County Public Library