Autumn officially begins on Wednesday. While some will mourn the end of another warm season and the gradual march toward winter, there is much for food lovers to eagerly anticipate about the cooler season ahead.
This fall, vow to take full advantage and enjoy all the foods and food-related activities the season has to offer.
From must-use autumn produce to memorable culinary experiences, the items on this culinary bucket list should set you deliciously on your way.
In no particular order:
1. Go apple picking.
Sure, you can buy apples in a store. But nothing says autumn like picking your own apples right off the tree. Roast them, bake them or simply eat them raw. Apples are the quintessential fruit of fall.
2. Enjoy our state fruit — the cranberry.
Early settlers referred to this ruby-colored edible gem as the crane berry because of the blossom’s resemblance to the sandhill crane. Since 2004, this tart treat has held the official title of state fruit of Wisconsin.
This fall, for the 21st year, Wisconsin’s cranberry industry is projected to produce more cranberries than any other state, with a crop of more than 5 million barrels.
Cranberries freeze well for up to a year. Wash in cold water before using, but not before freezing. Do not thaw the berries. Follow the recipe directions by simply using frozen berries in place of fresh.
There are so many ways to use cranberries beyond the usual sauce for the Thanksgiving table. Two examples: a spiced rice pudding in which fresh berries are coupled with diced fresh apple; and a mustard butter for grilled salmon that uses the dried berries. Both of these, and many more recipes, can be found at wiscran.org.
3. Get to the root of the matter.
Root vegetables, from beets to rutabagas, carrots to parsnips, are ripe for the digging come fall. Mashed, roasted or raw, root vegetables are tasty and nutritious.
Gather your favorites from the garden or farmers market (or grocery store) and store in a cool, dark humid room or root cellar. Root vegetables stored in the refrigerator should be kept in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper. Storing them uncovered makes the vegetables soft.
Use your favorite roots in a roasted vegetable galette, oven-roasted with a little honey, or in a sumptuous soup.
4. Rediscover brussels sprouts.
A member of the cabbage family, the diminutive brussels sprout is enjoying new popularity. Peak season begins in September and runs through mid-March. Lucky fall vegetable hunters may even find brussels sprouts still intact on the stalk at their favorite farmers market. Don’t be surprised to see both the traditional green version as well as a purple-hued variety.
Tender and sweet when roasted, brussels sprouts are crunchy and savory when used in a salad. Try shaving them into thin slices with a food processor or mandoline. Toss with diced seasonal fresh apples, pomegranate seeds and those last fresh herbs of the season for an unusual lettuce-free salad.
5. Bake a savory pie.
Pie baking is the perfect fall culinary activity. From apple to pumpkin, every cook has his or her favorite.
This year, expand your pie-making by adding a savory version to your pie-recipe repertoire. Let’s be honest; who wouldn’t like pie for dinner?
Hand pies are small, individual pies that work perfectly as a savory pie. Create a filling from your favorite winter squash like butternut or Hubbard combined with creamy goat cheese and fresh sage.
6. Make soup.
Ask 10 people what their favorite soup recipe is and you’ll come up with 10 different answers. Soup recipes are personal, with each cook making tweaks that they feel make their heartwarming concoction the best.
A carrot and ginger bisque is fast, healthy and delicious. Flavored with fresh ginger root, orange and maple syrup, the soup is both dairy and gluten-free.
7. Throw a canning party.
Gather a group of friends, some canning jars, a few canning pots and fresh fall produce. It’s time to host a canning party. Whether a novice or expert, everyone can pitch in.
An added bonus; party-goers can trade their finished product so everyone goes home with a variety pack of canned treats. Get canning party tips here.
8. Try hard cider.
A popular beverage in Europe, hard cider now has hit the American beverage market with full force. hard cider, an alcoholic beverage usually made with apples and pears, is a great beer alternative, and it’s most often gluten-free.
Wisconsin has gotten into the hard cider scene with a variety of state-brewed versions. Try Island Orchard hard cider from Door County, Maiden Rock hard cider from Stockholm or Cider House of Wisconsin located in McFarland.
The sparkling flavors of hard cider work well in cooking, too. Warm brie topped with a mixture of hard cider-stewed dried fruits and caramelized apples makes the perfect autumn appetizer.
9. Make and eat your harvest display.
Winter squash of all types and sizes are often hiding in plain sight with traditional pumpkins at the markets. Know your squash before you shop and create an autumn display that serves double duty. With a little squash education, your outdoor display can later be transformed into a delicious recipe.
See if you can find a Galeux d’Eysines with its barnacles covering a light pink color, a Rouge vif d’Etampes, also known as a Cinderella pumpkin, or a light-buff colored Long Island cheese, an edible winter squash whose squatty appearance resembles a wheel of cheese.
Here are directions for roasting and storing winter squash along with recipes for maple winter squash soup and roasted squash and goat cheese pizzas.
10. Take an autumn culinary road trip.
As autumn leaves turn from green to red, yellow, orange and brown, a leaf-peeping drive is in order.
Work in your leaf-gazing with one of our state’s many food-centric fall events centered on everything from cranberries to beer, beef and world-class chefs.
Check out the accompanying list of upcoming food events. See a complete listing here.