EATING LOCAL - With summer waning, fresh fall produce takes center stage

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An abundance of squash varieties, including pumpkins, are available locally in the fall.

Stepping outside this morning, ready to walk the kids to school, I felt a chill in the air and had to run back inside to get a jacket.

The first day of fall is right around the corner, and with it comes cooler weather and a new season of produce. Every year at this time, I begin to look forward to the new crop of apples, winter squash and pears.

Cold weather makes me crave warm soups and hearty dishes, something I wouldn't have dreamed of in the peak of summer heat.

But there is a bittersweetness to the change: I will miss the summer produce, sweet and delicious from the heat of the sun.

Walking through the community garden, I see tomato plants as tall as I am, so full the cages can no longer manage the weight of the juicy bounty. More than enough for the gardeners, some overripe tomatoes fall to the ground.

In my garden bed, I have more crookneck squash than I know what to do with. I can't seem to give it away; most everyone else is swimming in squash.

But I don't want to take my harvest for granted and let it rot on the garden floor. I want to enjoy my produce past the sunny days of summer into and through the cold gray days of winter.

So this year, I'm looking at stocking my pantry with canning jars of my summer overabundance. Pickled green beans, zucchini salsa, chow chow, bread and butter pickles, antipasto relish and canned tomatoes are among items I hope to make.

With the thoughts of a stocked pantry, I feel ready to accept the fall produce with open arms. Apples -crisp, juicy and delicious - perfect for an anytime snack, packed in the kids' lunch or baked into a pie.

If you pay much attention to apple season, you will notice that at a certain point during the year the only apples available are coming from far away countries like Chile and New Zealand. It just doesn't make sense to me to buy apples at that time of the year, when they are being shipped so far. If we're patient for a bit longer we can have locally grown apples, without the dirty carbon footprint of shipping across the world. Hence our excitement when fall apple season rolls around.

Not only apples, but autumn yields squash, pears, grapes, figs, pomegranates, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and cauliflower. Mother nature really knows what she's doing as these wonderful produce items are all very warming and hearty, perfect for those chilly evenings. Baked, filled, sauteed or roasted to pull the sweetness out of them, fall vegetables make a lovely addition to the seasonal dinner table.

This week, I will pull out our summer garden to replace it with a fall/winter garden. I will harvest the last of the tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers and potatoes, and replacing them with foods that flourish in the cooler fall months: winter squash, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, kale, kohlrabi and carrots.

The carrots, kale, chard and maybe kohlrabi will winter over well and can last us through the freezing months. Lucky to have a space to grow our own produce, it connects me to the seasons even more, getting my hands dirty and clueing me into what grows when.

The change of season is an important road marker along our path through the year. It becomes something predictable, something that we can look forward year after year and remind us of years past. Each year I meet it with melancholy, for the good times coming to an end as well as anticipation for what is soon to come.

Consider canning some of the remaining summer produce, planting your own fall garden, or maybe freezing some summer fruit. In dreary January, you'll be happy you did.

Melissa Davis, a personal chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition and specializes in natural foods, can be reached at jadenluna@gmail.com. More of her culinary writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.

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