Eating fruits and vegetables in season is the best way to eat. What’s better than a summer tomato, vermillion red, seeds spilling out as you bite into it, salty and tasting of the earth? What’s more delicious than asparagus in March, seasoned with grainy sea salt and fruited olive oil, roasted to the perfect point between crunchy and soft? Nothing. Nothing.
To eat is to experience. To experience is to understand. To understand is to know. To know another culture, to understand the land and its cultivation, eat. Stop by a fruit stand and buy the pomegranate, eat it its crimson seeds, bite into them lightly, let their juice burst out, filling your mouth with its sweet fragrance.
It’s autumn. There are so many good foods in season this time of year, rich and hearty and filling. These foods are on full display on the frutería stands I pass by daily. Sometimes I stop to watch as the people flood in and out, asking for giant purple grapes, seeds still intact, or kilo after kilo of grubby golden apples. It’s time to eat … but which foods are in season where I am?
- Pomegranates—The pomegranate, a native of Persia, has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for several millennia. The city of Granada in southern Spain was named after this luscious fruit. It is a true fall and winter fruit, in season from September to February. I like to eat it plain or in salads, although these recipes sounds delicious.
- Persimmons—The first time I had a persimmon was in a classic Indiana dish, persimmon pudding. But I had my first plain persimmon here in Spain, thanks to my husband. He introduced the fruit to me, calling it a “caqui.” To me, the persimmon tastes of dates and plums. (Be sure to know which type of persimmon you purchase, because there are astringent and non-astringent varieties!)
- Autumn Squash—Squash and pumpkins alike are referred to as “calabazas” here, so when you ask for a “calabaza,” there are several things you could possibly be given. I like to eat all kinds of squash, but most especially acorn and butternut, the two varieties most easily found here. If you roast them in the oven, they have a sweet taste, but not overly so, and go well into dishes like pureed soups, pizzas, or paired with meat.
- Greens—Greens get a bad rap. Done right, they can be nutty and flavor rich. Done poorly, they can be limp and tasteless. It’s next to impossible to find kale in Spain, but you can find spinach and chard. As for chard, the leaves are green, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find the colored steams, which brighten up my day anyway! Besides being delicious, these babies are packed with health: vitamins A, K, and C, along with minerals, fiber, and even protein. Bet you didn’t think you could get protein from greens! This spinach-salad recipe looks divine.
- Chestnuts—In Salamanca, you knew the cold was here to stay when the chestnut vendors set up their stands on the streets. There is nothing like winding your way through the crowds at 7 p.m., the sun set long ago, teeth-chatteringly cold … and then buying a paper cone of chestnuts, warm and comforting as you walk the rest of the way home. Chestnuts can also be eaten in other ways, of course: stuffings, risottos with butternut squash, decadent pasta, and, of course, dessert. In Spain, a popular way to eat it is a purée.
- Quince—Ah, membrillo. For me, it is impossible to refer to this fruit as a quince, a word I learned after I’d learned the Spanish word for it, a word that doesn’t roll off my tongue quite like membrillo, especially when preceded by “dulce de.” The quince is an odd-looking fruit, misshapen almost, but please know that looks, in this case at least, are utterly deceiving. The quince is not one that can be eaten right away due to it being hard and having a rather astringent flavor. However, my mother-in-law makes a delicious treat known as “dulce de membrillo,” a quince paste, that is divine when paired with manchego cheese. In my old high school in Zamora, the teachers placed quinces in certain offices, hoping their sweet smell would penetrate the building.
- Apples—Apples. They’re not anything new or overly enthralling, but apples are one of my favorite foods. Unlike many in Spain, I don’t like peeling it. I prefer washing it and eating as is. Apples are probably one of the most (if not the most) cultivated fruits and have their place in history. (Just think of the Garden of Eden—and that’s just the beginning!) I love apples in crisps especially, with the browned butter, slightly crunchy oatmeal and brown sugar, and cooling vanilla ice cream set on top. But don’t forget! Apples aren’t just for sweet recipes. They are delicious in soups, turnovers, salads, stuffings, and sandwiches.
So, readers, what about you? What is good to eat where you live in autumn?