Flavors of Fall

brussels sprouts         butternut squash

As I’ve been preparing to teach my class on cooking fall fruits and vegetables at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op this weekend, I can’t help but contemplate: What is it about fall’s flavors that make us swoon so?

Is it the brief time they’re in the spotlight? The nostalgia that comes with the holidays of the season? The comfort-food nature of the dishes we cook this time of year? Is there something intrinsic to the foods themselves? Or is it a little of everything, the perfect casserole of sense and sentiment?

For me, I think the attraction comes more from the heart than the taste buds. When I consider my favorite fall dishes, so often they conjure a memory (Like the Thanksgiving my mom made from-scratch French Onion soup for two dozen family members and friends; our kitchen smelled like onions for days!). And those memories are typically tied to togetherness, to gathering, to sharing. It’s hard to compete with that.

There’s something appealing about the pace of this season, too — less go-go than summer, but not as nested as winter. That’s true of fall’s foods, as well. The squash, the turnips, the nuts, even the greens that grow this time of year are so much more patient than the tomatoes and cucumbers and beans that will rot or bolt or grow so big they are inedible if you turn away your attention for a moment. Fall’s highlights let you pick and then store them for months. So, while pumpkin is all the rage in October and November, really you can cook and eat it clear till April.

turnips

But even without the emotions, fall’s flavors are a special lot. They’re so versatile, for one. Apples, butternuts, beets and carrots can just as easily stand in for savory as for sweet. And they’re heftier, creamier, more filling. In truth, a tomato or cucumber is little more than tasty water.

As the food writer for The Roanoke Times a few falls ago, I wrote several stories that touched on these questions. The chefs and bakers I spoke with echoed many of these same ideas: fall is slower and more tied to tradition. What other season has a holiday with food more at its center than our celebrate-the-harvest Thanksgiving? But they also lauded the deliciousness of the season’s produce. These foods are, after-all, the culmination of seeds sometimes sown in early spring. After growing for so long, what fall gives us had better to be good, right?

So as I’m cooking my Thai Butternut Squash Soup and my Beautiful Beet Salad and my honey apple cake with friends and foodies in my class on Saturday, I’ll be trying to discern: Is it the flavors or the fond memories that make these dishes so good?

What do you think? Why are fall’s foods so beloved?

There are still a few seats left in my class. If you’re an interested local reader, I’d love for you to call 540-343-5652 to register to be a part of this cooking conversation. Click here for more information. And thanks to those who’ve already signed up!

Around the web: Whether you’re a fan of Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food blog and New York Times bestselling cookbook or in the market for a collection of family-friendly, real-food recipes, her new cookbook, 100 Day of Real Food: Fast and Fabulous, is a great addition to your cookbook shelf. Read my review of it here.

Next week: Pumpkin … for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

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