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Hearty Abundance

November may end with a grand tribute to turkey but there’s more to this month than the big bird. Root vegetables, cranberries and winter squash are all in season and perfect right now!

 

Root Vegetables

One of the most overlooked categories in the produce aisle, root vegetables begin to come onto the scene in October and will be available well into spring. Of course you’re familiar with carrots and beets, but some of our other favorites include parsnips (which look like ivory-colored carrots), rutabagas (also known as “Swedes”), turnips and celery root (or “celeriac”). Regardless of the root you’re buying, look for those that have a smooth, blemish-free surface and no signs of softening or wrinkling. Because root vegetables can be stored for longer periods of time than most vegetables, they probably won’t have their greens attached; and some (like parsnips, turnips and rutabagas) are often coated in a thin film of wax for even longer storage. Simply peel the wax off with a vegetable peeler before cooking.

Root vegetables can be boiled or steamed and then mashed, and they’re also great additions to soups. But for even more intense flavor, try roasting them. This technique caramelizes the surface of the vegetables and helps intensify their natural sweetness.

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Cranberries

What would Thanksgiving be without cranberries? As one of the few fruits native to North America, cranberries grow on low-lying vines in fields called “bogs” or “marshes.” At harvest time (September through November) the bogs are flooded with water and the vines are then raked to loosen the berries, where they float (an air pocket in the berries’ centers make them buoyant) and are gathered for processing into juice or sauce. A small percentage of cranberry fields are “dry harvested” using mechanical pickers – these cranberries are packaged in bags and sold in produce aisles during the holiday season. 

When buying fresh cranberries, look for fruit that’s deep red in color with no signs of softening, mold or leakage inside the bag. Stored in the bag in the refrigerator, cranberries can easily last several weeks; they also freeze beautifully so buy a few bags during the holiday season and store in the freezer to use later in the year when they’re not available. Like all berries, it’s best to wash cranberries just before cooking since water causes the fruit to deteriorate quickly.

Of course, cranberry sauce made with fresh or frozen cranberries is a Thanksgiving treat, but you can enjoy the sweet-tart flavor of dried cranberries year-round in salads, side dishes, desserts, even main dishes! And canned cranberry sauce is a surprisingly flavorful addition to chickenpulled pork and turkey burgers!

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Winter Squash

Winter squashes, generally characterized by hard, thick, inedible skins, an inner seed cavity and dense flesh, are everywhere this time of year. Along with pumpkins, buttercup, butternut, spaghetti and acorn are some of the most common grocery store varieties, but calabaza, delicata, kabocha and hubbard are other types you may encounter, especially at farmers’ markets. When looking for the perfect squash, choose one that’s heavy for its size with a stem that’s firm and dry. The surface of the squash should be dull – shiny skin tells you that the squash was harvested too soon. And be sure that there are no soft spots, nicks or cracks (although it’s okay if you see a pale spot on one side where the squash rested on the ground). 

Peeling and cutting are the most challenging tasks of working with winter squash. Smooth-skinned varieties, like butternut, are fairly easy to peel using a sturdy vegetable peeler. Bumpy, knobby squash are best baked or microwaved briefly before cutting or peeling to soften slightly. (Pierce the skin in several places with the tip of a knife first to allow steam to escape.) Whole or halved winter squash can also be baked, unpeeled, until the flesh is tender. Then simply scrape the flesh away from the skin.

Enjoy most winter squashes roasted, simmered in soup or baked. Spaghetti squash, however, should only be roasted or baked – simmering it in liquid destroys the delicate strands.
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