As cool winds blow down Gervais Street and trees around the city turn to bright red, orange, and yellow, schedules fill with fall walks, corn mazes, and a warm fire for cozying up. But this season is also time for a plethora of fruits and vegetables flowing in from South Carolina farms. As autumn brings a cool relief from hot summer days, this produce arrives just in time to provide welcome variety in the kitchen.
While South Carolina benefits from moderate temperatures year-round, soft summer fruits and vegetables like peaches and blueberries cannot thrive in cooler temperatures. Instead, heartier stock takes their place. Hard squash, root vegetables, and robust greens do well in cooler temperatures and bring comforting flavors to the table.
Hard squashes include acorn, butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, and many more. While their hard exterior may seem intimidating, that is no reason to avoid adding these to the grocery cart. Whether steaming, baking, or grilling these gourds, keep in mind a few important keys. First, if slicing them before cooking, an especially sharp knife is important. A large chef’s knife will provide control and precision when taking on the tough shell of a butternut or acorn squash. A minute or two in the microwave can help if cutting is too difficult. For being so tough on the outside, these gourds maintain a delicate flavor much like their summer counterparts, so proper seasoning is important. Grilling or roasting squash draws out their nutty flavor with a light char, but boiling or steaming keeps the flavor simple and sweet.
Fall squash works both as a wonderful side dish as well as a sensational centerpiece of an autumn meal.
Stuffing and baking a pumpkin creates a dish that fully embraces fall flavors and honestly tastes better than anything brought home on Halloween night. While the recipe below does specify particular ingredients, the method of stuffing a pumpkin can be used with any number of ingredients on hand. Once you get the hang of it, this dish can be adapted a number of ways. For a Hispanic interpretation, stuff with chorizo, beans, and cheese. For a vegetarian approach, substitute the pork roast for mushrooms and add in a bit of kale or swiss chard. Sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins or sweet pumpkins, are just the right size for stuffing and baking. Smaller than their jack-o-lantern counterparts, these cook quickly and hold their shape when baking. Find sugar pumpkins in the produce section of the grocery store.
A 4-pound pumpkin
1/4 pound stale bread, cubed
1/4 pound Swiss or gruyere cheese, cubed
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 pound pork roast, pre-cooked, seasoned, and cubed
1/2 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/3 cup cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut a 4-inch circle around the stem of the pumpkin, similar to a jack-o-lantern carving. Remove the cap and save for later. Scoop the seeds and strings out and set aside for making roasted pepitas (recipe below). Place the pumpkin on a lined baking sheet. Toss the cheese, bread, nuts, cherries, apples, and pork together and stuff into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be full to the top. If it is not, add more stuffing. Stir seasonings into the cream and pour over the stuffing just enough to moisten but not so much that the stuffing is floating in cream. Place the cap back on the top of the pumpkin and place the baking sheet in the oven.
Bake the pumpkin for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the pumpkin meat is tender. After baking, allow the pumpkin to rest for 20 minutes. To serve, remove the cap and cut the pumpkin into wedges. Serves 6.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (or Pepitas)
As the saying goes, “Waste not, want not,” and fall produce provides an excellent opportunity to put that wisdom to use. Admittedly, the pulp that surrounds seeds in the middle of a pumpkin does not have a great use other than the compost bin, but you would be missing out on a treat if you trashed the seeds themselves.
2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
If using seeds just pulled from a pumpkin, grab a colander and rinse the orange pulp from the seeds. Set the seeds on a paper towel to dry for at least 3 hours. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Melt butter in a large bowl and toss the seeds with the butter and salt. Lay flat on a lined baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. After 1 hour, turn off the heat but leave the seeds in the oven until cool so that they continue to dry out. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Eat these on their own for a salty snack or toss on top of a salad.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
While a stuffed pumpkin can feed a full family, acorn squash is fun because each person can have their own individual squash.
2 acorn squash
1 pound ground beef (this can be swapped for other ground meat, like turkey or venison)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
Salt, to taste
4 slices of bacon
2 apples, diced
1/4 cup dried cherries
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 tablespoon of salted butter
1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds. Melt butter and stir in oregano, cracked pepper, and garlic powder. Brush the inside of the squash with this mixture. Place squash open side up on a baking sheet and cook for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. Brown the ground meat and season with nutmeg, red pepper flakes, onion, garlic cloves, and salt. Drain the fat from the meat. Toss in the parmesan, apples, and dried cherries.
Remove the squash from the oven and add the filling into the hole where the seeds were. Top with more cheese and return to the oven for 15 minutes until warmed through and the cheese is melted. Serve with a simple green salad on the side for a complete meal. Serves 4.
Cauliflower might not be the first vegetable that comes to mind when thinking of autumn, but the cruciferous vegetable thrives in cool months and has much more culinary use than a simple spot on a crudité spread. Cauliflower has been adopted as a substitute for a number of foods from pizza crust to chicken nuggets. These are delicious preparations, but mashed cauliflower brings this autumn treasure’s sweet nutty flavor into the spotlight.
2 heads of cauliflower
1/4 cup cream
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Cut cauliflower into 1 to 2-inch florets. Steam the cauliflower until soft. For a creamier dish, steam the cauliflower longer. Place steamed cauliflower, oregano, thyme, and salt into a food processor and pulse until the desired texture is reached. Depending on the blender or food processor, a splash of cream may need to be added to help with blending.
Over medium heat, melt butter in a medium pot with diced garlic cloves. Heat until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add cream and reduce heat to keep from burning. Stir in cheese until it is melted. Fold in the blended cauliflower until fully combined. For a light, healthy meal, serve with grilled salmon and a green salad.
Vegan Sweet Potato Soup
1 cup of cooked sweet potato, roughly one potato
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Smoked paprika, to taste
Place all ingredients in a soup pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients. A food processor or standard blender will also work. Warm the soup over medium low heat. Be careful not to overheat as this will cause the soup to separate. If the soup does separate, simply use the immersion blender to emulsify the ingredients again. Adjust texture by adding more vegetable stock if desired, and adjust flavor by adding more salt and paprika. To serve, drizzle a bit of sesame oil and smoked paprika over the bowl and lightly stir. Consider toasting a slice of sourdough bread to eat alongside the soup.
Homemade Apple Cider
Nothing quite warms you up like homemade apple cider on the first cold day of the season. Do not be afraid to add a splash of something stronger to liven up this recipe.
8 apples, variety of types both tart and sweet
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
4 inches of fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Quarter and core each apple. Halve oranges. Place apples, oranges, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and cloves into a large stockpot. Add water to the pot, so that it is 2 inches above the fruit. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat on the stove. After the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and cover for 2 hours. After 2 hours, use a wooden spoon or potato masher to mash in the water. Simmer for another 30 minutes. Use a mesh sieve or cheesecloth to strain out the fruit and spices. Serve warm or refrigerate and enjoy chilled for up to 1 week.
Honey Baked Apples
Sometimes a whole pie is just too much. If that is the case, reach for this recipe. Baked apples allow the home cook to make just what is needed.
4 baking apples
1/4 cup light brown sugar, or dark brown for a denser filling
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Ground cinnamon, to taste
Ground cloves, to taste
1 tablespoon honey
A dash of salt
1 tablespoon butter
Pie dough (optional)
After washing each apple, core the apple, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch of the core intact. It should look like a little apple bowl. Toast the chopped walnuts. Combine brown sugar, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, honey, and salt. Divide the tablespoon of butter in half and melt one half of it. Add this to the filling. The mixture should not be overly wet — just moist enough so that the sugar and spices coat the walnuts. Fill each apple cavity with the mixture. Divide the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter into 4 pieces and place on top of each apple. As the apples cook, the filling will settle, so it is okay for the apples to be very full. Fill the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch pan with about 1 cup of water. Place the apples in the pan so that they will not fall over. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.
Optional pie crust topping:
While the honey baked apples are in the oven, remove premade pie dough from the refrigerator. Roll and cut desired shapes for decorating your apples (leaves, circle, lattice). Brush the pie crust with an egg wash (a small mixture of raw egg white and water) and sprinkle with raw sugar. After the apples have baked for 25 minutes, remove them, decorate with the pie crust, and return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes.
If you choose not to decorate with crust, bake them for 40 minutes or until the apples are tender. Serve hot, preferably with ice cream.
Fall Southern Succotash
As we move more into autumn, farm fresh tomatoes may become more difficult to find. While some may consider tomatoes as a key ingredient in succotash, at its most basic succotash is a mixture of corn and lima beans. Bacon brings extra richness to the dish and the apple cider vinegar replaces the acidity of the tomatoes. Adding in okra to this vegetable medley will make this dish the star of any tailgate, potluck, or dinner party this fall.
4 slices bacon
1 shallot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup black-eyed peas, cooked
3 ears of corn
3/4 pounds okra
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Tabasco or preferred hot sauce, to taste
Cook the bacon in a cast iron skillet until crispy. Drain about half of the fat and discard. Add diced shallots and garlic to the skillet and cook on medium until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Use a sharp knife to cut the corn from the cob and slice the okra into pennies. Add the okra and the corn to the skillet and let them sit on high heat for about 3 minutes without stirring until they begin to take on a bit of color. Stir and let them sit again to brown up just a bit more. Stir in the black-eyed peas, apple cider vinegar, oregano, and cracked pepper. Chop the bacon into bits and sprinkle over the dish. If the bacon does not provide enough salt, then season to taste. Add a couple of dashes of Tabasco to give this dish a healthy kick. Serve either warm or cold.