The end of summer tends to be bittersweet for cooking enthusiasts, as we say goodbye to fresh produce like sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes, and berries — but cheer up! Though the most fruitful growing season is slowing down, there is still a number of new and different goodies to look forward to in the coming weeks. As the weather cools, try incorporating autumn's best vegetables and a few heartier recipes into your meal planning. After all, eating according to the seasons is not only delicious, but also better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.
Savor what's being harvested.
Just like you enjoyed summer's fruits and veggies, now is the time to anticipate and enjoy what is coming into season for the fall. You can find lists online, like the Epicurious Seasonal Ingredient Map, that are organized by month and region and show you what to look for in stores and farmer's markets. Topping the list for fall are apples, pears, and some kinds of squash; as fall wears on, you'll find more pumpkins, turnips, beets, peppers, grapes, potatoes, and hearty greens, like kohlrabi, collards and spinach.
Get your fill of local foods at farmer's markets and pick-your-own farms.
Eating locally-grown foods is smart in many ways: First, you support farmers who are keeping local land from becoming too overdeveloped, as well as farmers who often offer an earth-friendlier alternative to large, commercial agriculture operations. Second, buying local foods reduces food miles, meaning less energy and resources are exhausted transporting food hundreds or even thousands of miles. To eat local, try to buy your produce at area farmers' markets, farm stands, through community-supported agriculture shares, or at supermarkets that supply local vendors. You might also plan a fun outing to a local fruit orchard to pick your own apples and pears. Whether you pick it yourself or buy it at the market, that apple will taste a lot fresher than if it's coming from another state.
Tweak your summer recipes for fall.
If you've gotten hooked on some favorite recipes over the summer, don't worry! Rethinking those favorites to focus on fall ingredients can be surprisingly easy. For instance, if you've been making basil pesto to toss with pasta, try making spinach pesto instead. If you were enjoying berry pies all summer, switch over to apple pie for fall — and maybe you'll miss a thick slice of ripe tomato on your burger or sandwich, but grilled peppers and onions, both of which are in season in the fall, add just as much flavor and texture. Finally, cooler weather means a different variety of grill-able veggies — for something new, try grilling slices of eggplant or squash, or leeks and onions.
Discover new ways to serve fall's favorites.
Don't let yourself get burned out on fall favorites like apples and pumpkins before they're out of season again — keep an eye out in cooking magazines or online for fun and unexpected new ways to prepare them. Apples, for instance, can be a surprise ingredient diced up in a spinach salad and tossed with goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette, or they can be added to roasted root vegetables to accompany roast chicken or pork. Kale, one of fall's quintessential leafy greens, is delicious sautéed, but also makes a surprisingly addictive snack when made into crispy kale chips.
And, if you've never made applesauce or pumpkin pie from scratch before, now is the time! Baking from scratch means you can avoid buying processed, jarred products, and instead try out your own pumpkin puree or homemade applesauce. Both of these will keep in the refrigerator for a couple weeks; while you're at it, you can easily repurpose an old applesauce or pasta sauce jar for storing your homemade extras.
Find ways to save energy while you prepare long-cooking recipes.
Autumn is a time of stews simmering on the stove all afternoon, or braised meats perfuming the air hours before dinnertime. If you're worried about all the extra energy that comes with using your stove and oven more often, consider other, more energy-efficient cooking methods. A pressure cooker is one of the best tools for just that — it cooks food in about one-third the amount of time that it would take in a conventional pan. Electric slow cookers are another option; their relatively low wattage means that they use less energy to cook with than a stove or oven might.
There are a few easy ways to make sure you're being as energy-efficient as possible when you do use your stove and oven. Instead of preheating the oven during the entire meal preparation, only turn on the oven for as long as it will take to preheat — the time varies per oven, but it generally takes about 15 minutes to get to 350°F. While cooking or baking, minimize the number and length of times you open the oven door — each time you do, the temperature can drop as much as 25°F, and it takes more energy to make up the difference once the door is closed. On the stovetop, try to use a pan that is just a little larger than the burner for the most efficient use of the heat.