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September, 2009

Fall for Summer

By Mark Mulcahy

Do you remember as a kid looking through catalogs at Christmas time or perhaps going to the city and visiting an FAO Schwartz or Toys-R-Us store a few months before your birthday and being awed at the endless possibilities of gifts? I sure do!

Organic Peaches
Well, September brings me the same feeling when I walk into a produce department, because I am awed at the endless variety of Melissa’s produce that is available to enjoy. Just take a look around your produce department. Can you believe the bounty? You have the best of Melissa’s organic summer and autumn fruits and vegetables to choose from. No other time of year offers an organic selection this good. All the organic stone fruits, like Melissa’s peaches, plums, and plumcots are so ripe that they squish when you bite into them. Melons that are big, round, and heavy, begging to be eaten. Oh sweet goodness! There are still tomatoes that taste fantastic; yes I’m talking about every variety imaginable, and corn that is plentiful and full of corny goodness. Is there anything that says summer more than corn and tomatoes? I don’t think so! Now look at what fall offers: the first apples of the season from Melissa’s best growers, crisp and fresh with so many culinary possibilities. Oh sure, we have apples year-round in your stores, but there is just something about autumn apples here in the States. Just ask someone who lives in Vermont, California, the northwest, or your own great apple-growing area.

Organic Pears
Pears fill displays, with slender necks and round bottoms, in the hues of autumn: yellow, brown and green. Multicolored winter squash may be just right if you’ve started to feel the chill of autumn’s frosty fingers.

NOTE: Late autumn to winter squash will be just a bit sweeter or more flavorful than ones grown without fall’s cool touch.

And of course, there are the greens like chard and kale, and lettuces that just start to reveal their true, deeper colors and seem to be happier with the cooler nights. I think you may be starting to get the idea – August is too early and October too late, but September is just right! Did someone just hear Goldilocks? So in essence, I’m saying that September is the best month of the year to buy produce. I propose that you start your own “Fall for Summer” project when you walk through your produce department. Start by committing to make a peach, berry or apple pie this month. You know that your favorite store has plenty of pie tins, pectin and sugar and lots of yummy fruit around. I know the cooks who read this column will jump all over this; but I’m encouraging you budding bakers to give it a try too. Who knows, you may be surprised at how good it will turn out! If you need help with ingredients, just ask one of your produce clerks what they think will work. Can you imagine a pie with Pippin apples and the last of the sweet summer blackberries? Mmmm, mmm. And remember, if you need someone to sample your pie, I’ll gladly be a judge!

Organic Spaghetti Squash
Not a baker? September is also perfect for planning a red checked tablecloth picnic with a bottle of Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon, some olive oil, fresh baked baguettes and plates of spaghetti squash, topped with sautéed, ripe, end-of-the-summer tomatoes, yellow sunburst squash, and purple garlic. Now’s there’s a pasta picnic that would remind you of a night in Tuscany. And best of all, you’ve got all of the ingredients within reach at this time of year! This probably is the last month that you will see corn piled high, so try this recipe for corn chowder:

Corn Chowder with Roasted Poblanos
By the Mayo Clinic Staff

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 poblano or Anaheim chiles, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 or 3 Yukon Gold or red-skinned potatoes, about 1 pound total weight, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 4 ears corn) or frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 cups vegetable stock or broth
1 cup 1% low fat milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions
Preheat gas grill or oven broiler. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from heat source. Arrange the chiles skin side down on the grill rack, or skin side up on a broiler pan lined with aluminum foil. Grill or broil until the skins begin to blacken, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let steam until the skins loosen, about 10 minutes. Peel the chiles, discarding the blackened skin and stems and chop coarsely. Set aside.

Put the potatoes in a saucepan, add water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a small bowl. With a potato masher, partially mash the potatoes and set aside. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and sauté until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook for 3 to 4 minutes longer. Stir in the roasted chiles and the partially mashed potatoes. Add the corn, vegetable stock, milk, pepper and the remaining 1/4-teaspoon salt. Simmer uncovered until the soup thickens, 25 to 30 minutes.

Ladle into warmed bowls and sprinkle with the cilantro and oregano. Serve immediately. Yes, in September you can have your cob and spoon it too! Lastly, I’m always surprised just how many folks have not tried chard, collards or kale. If you are one of them, this a great time to make the introduction. The greens are tasty, the price is reasonable, and they should be around for the next several months, getting better with each drop in temperature.