The first half of September is what I like to think of as the “sweet spot,” when late summer sun meets the faintly crisp air of early fall and the produce is both majestic and abundant. From fruits and vegetables to herbs and edible fungi, the variety in this magic moment is second to none, with something truly for everyone. In my opinion, there is no better time to eat locally. I may have done a little happy dance last week when I discovered concord grapes at A.B. Orchards (5766-5768 White Oak Road, Paradise), plump and floral. By the time you read this, I’ll have transformed them into jelly. (See the recipe here.)
My only words of advice: Run; don’t walk to your favorite farm stand or market; ingredients that straddle seasons tend to quickly disappear. If you see your favorite summer ingredient, seize the moment and stock up and freeze for later.
Here’s what we’ve spotted in the past week at local farm stands, with ideas from our archives for putting them to good use.
Local apple season is officially underway, with different varieties making their seasonal debut every week until November.
Last fall I sampled 12 varieties of apples grown in Lancaster. See my tasting notes at lanc.news/appletasting.
Another idea: Whip up an apple coffee cake. (See recipe at: lanc.news/applecoffeecake.)
The quintessential herb of summer is nearing its end for 2021, so grab some while you can and make a batch of pesto, for immediate consumption (or freeze into ice cubes for when the hankering strikes in February.) For our how-to video, see lanc.news/basilpestovideo.
This spring, before tomatoes were in season, I made a batch of beet ketchup with guidance from Philadelphia cookbook author Marisa McClellan. Her recipe (see lanc.news/beetketchup for details) made me a believer; ketchup need not be limited to tomatoes.
Consider a hearty Indian-spiced ratatouille (lanc.news/ratatouille) which gets better on the next day, or slice up a few eggplants into rounds, roast or grill for a stash that you can repurpose all week long into sandwiches and salads (lanc.news/eggplantrounds).
If you are lucky enough to have a fig tree in your yard, you know you are in a race with the squirrels and the birds. With a small handful, I like to slice in half, drizzle with honey, garnish with basil and serve with blue cheese as part of a salad or maybe throw it all onto pizza.
When I can score a few pounds, I like to roast them until totally surrendered or make jam, which is the absolute best as part of a cheese plate.
Cooler evenings and mornings mean that salad greens are back in rotation until the first frost. But first, a lesson on washing and drying (and salting!) those greens to up your salad game. See lanc.news/saladgreens for how-to details.
With stone fruit and melon still in the mix, it may feel a tad early for pears. But once we dive properly into fall, poached pears have a way of taking the edge off a chilly evening (and were perfect for our downsized Thanksgiving last year). For recipe details, see lanc.news/poachedpears.
Peppers, sweet and hot
Last year at this time, I made the argument that one can make stuffed bell peppers that are actually attractive (and easy to pull off on a worknight). If you’re up for a chile pepper project, I highly recommend trying lacto-fermented hot sauce; I loved the results of last year’s inaugural batch and have a stash of chile peppers for version 2021. See details for both recipes at lanc.news/stuffedpeppers.
Italian “prune” plums
These deep purple oblong beauties come late in the season, and in my opinion, are better for baking and jam making than eating out of hand. Fruit buckle or sweet galette, anyone? See lanc.news/fruitbuckle and lanc.news/sweetgalette for recipe details.
The smell of tomatillos roasting is one of my favorite smells of September. I share the how-to details for putting them into salsa or using them in bean chili. P.S. You can char peeled tomatillos on the stovetop in a dry skillet in mere minutes. See lanc.news/tomatillosalsa for details.
The tomato harvest lives in a few different spots in the house – on the kitchen window sill, in a newspaper-lined roasting pan (helps with ripening) and in various recycled cardboard containers from farm stands (you know the ones) for the cherry tomato avalanche. Already, I’ve made freezer marinara and slow-roasted a few pounds of black cherry tomatoes and tossed in olive oil for refrigerator snacking. But this week, it’s looking like cherry tomato cobbler time. Care to join me? For all three recipes, see lanc.news/tomatorecipes.
The season for long-haul storage squash is just getting started, so don’t worry if you’re suffering from FOMO. Last fall, I went deep on the many varieties that grow in Lancaster (lanc.news/wintersquashguide). And I can’t wait to revisit my old pal, roasted squash toast (lanc.news/squashtoast), which is even prettier than its avocado counterpart.