By Jennifer Shukaitis, Assistant Professor/Educator, State-Wide; and Christine Zellers, Assistant Professor/Educator, Cape May County; Department of Family and Community Health Sciences, Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
It’s Fall, Y’all!
Now that the days are getting shorter and holiday decorations are filling store displays, you may be thinking about the warm, comforting fall dishes that accompany the autumn season. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy the rich flavors and abundant nutritional benefits of local, seasonal produce. You can find the items featured below at your local Jersey Fresh farm stand or market and incorporate them into a myriad of traditional and nutritious fall dishes.
Pumpkin: The colors in fruits and vegetables, known as phytochemicals, support various body functions. Orange-colored produce is good for supporting eye health. Aging causes eyes to diminish naturally and because pumpkins are rich in beta carotene, they can help slow the process of poor eyesight, blindness, and cataracts. Potassium in pumpkins aids in managing blood pressure and preventing heart disease. Pumpkins are full of fiber that assists with maintaining a healthy weight. Pumpkin seeds are another nutritious fall treat. The seeds of the pumpkin are mostly protein and fats; half of the fat in the seeds is omega 6 fat which is a polyunsaturated fat that is heart healthy. The seeds of pumpkin are rich in magnesium, assisting the body with regulating blood sugar levels, preventing high blood pressure, and supporting healthy bones. The roasted seeds of pumpkins are great to add to salads and casseroles, or as a snack. Pumpkin seeds can be eaten with the white outer shell or the green inner part or both; eating them with the shell on provides more fiber. Adding pumpkin puree to muffins or pancakes can cut down on sugar since it is naturally sweet; roasted pumpkin with a little cinnamon and olive oil is a hearty side dish. Smaller pumpkins are sweeter and less stringy than larger ones. Use pumpkins for more than fall decorations – they make a terrific addition to a fall or winter meal, in a recipe like rich and savory pumpkin black bean soup: njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs/recipes/recipe.php?Pumpkin-and-Black-Bean-Soup.
Sweet Potatoes: Another orange fall favorite, sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, vitamin A, potassium, and vitamin C. While traditional holiday meals may call for the addition of butter and sugar (in the form of granulated sugar and marshmallows), try a simpler, more nutritious approach by roasting with heart-healthy olive oil and any variety of seasonal herbs such a sage, thyme, or rosemary or this recipe that combines squash and sweet potatoes: njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs/recipes/recipe.php?Roasted-Squash-and-Sweet-Potatoes.
Kale: Kale is a nutrient-dense food that is bountiful in the fall months. It is low in calories and contains bulk, making you feel full. It has vitamins A, K, and C. Vitamin A is important for vision, immunity, reproductive health, and organ function, especially heart, lungs, and kidneys. Vitamin K helps wounds heal and assists with blood clotting. Vitamin C boosts immunity and tissue development. The calcium in kale supports bone health. It can also help to reduce cholesterol and could lower the risk of heart disease. Kale has compounds that can protect against cancer and contains magnesium which has been shown to protect against type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When making a meal, think about adding kale to pork or chicken dishes to add vitamins and minerals, or use it to make a hearty fall salad that includes apples or cranberries. It is also great sautéed with garlic: njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs/recipes/recipe.php?Sautéed-Kale-with-Garlic.
Apples: Get a boost of fiber and vitamin C by biting into the classic fall icon, apples. This versatile fruit may be used in countless dishes or eaten as-is, fresh from the tree! Be sure to eat the skin to get the full benefits of all its fiber. For a quick and easy snack, try pairing with your favorite nut or seed butter, or simply slice and sprinkle with cinnamon to enjoy a crunchy and delicious seasonal treat. Have an abundance of apples from that apple-picking trip? Try this home-made apple sauce recipe: njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs/recipes/recipe.php?Applesauce.
Cranberries: The Garden State is among the top three producers of cranberries in the nation, and fall is the time to take full advantage of their distinctive flavor and wealth of nutritional benefits. Rich in many vitamins and minerals, they also contain a compound that may help to keep your bladder healthy. Try making home-made cranberry sauce to add to your holiday table, add dried cranberries to a salad or your own trail mix for a nutritious on-the-go snack, or bake into muffins: myplate.gov/recipes/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/cranberry-pumpkin-muffins.
Fall in Love with Jersey Fresh!
All the fall produce highlighted here may be found at your local farm stand or farmers’ market. Check out the Jersey Fresh website, where you can search by product and location to find your fall favorites close to home: findjerseyfresh.com/explore.
This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Gardener News.