November is the foodiest food month. From Friendsgiving to Thanksgiving, it marks the start of a seemingly endless period of feasting. To make your table more ecologically friendly, this edition of Your Greenmarket Guide will highlight seasonal plants, specifically those native to North America.
Native plants naturally occur in a region and do not require seeds from outside the area to grow. These plants evolved within local and are a crucial part of regional ecosystems. Growing, harvesting, and buying native produce encourages the continuation of these species and supports a healthy ecosystem.
Many of the most popular ingredients for Thanksgiving meals are actually native, including apples, cranberries, corn, pumpkins, shell beans, and squashes.
The tart, sweet, cranberry has its place during all parts of the meal. Whether in a sauce, a jelly, or a jam, cranberries are packed with immune-boosting antioxidants. Plus, they bring a gorgeous bit of red to the table. Dried cranberries are great in salads, cranberry juice makes for good cocktail mixers, and fresh cranberries add zing to breads and cakes.
You can now find popcorn, one of several varieties of colorful flint corn, at markets. If the popcorn is still on the cob, it can be popped right off the cob using a paper bag and a microwave. Some farmers will have the popcorn available as kernels for stovetop popping.
Flint corn, also known as ornamental corn, gets its name from the hard outer shell of the kernels (they’re “hard as flint”). As well as being used for popcorn, flint corn is often dried out and then ground into cornmeal, grits, hominy, and masa. Check with your local farmers to see if they have the grain available pre-ground. If not, flint corn makes for beautiful decorations.
Shell beans, including black-eyed peas and lima beans, are the fresh alternative to canned beans. The shell is thick and fibrous and needs to be removed before cooking. Shell beans work in any variety of recipes, and can replace dried beans easily. The benefit of fresh shell beans is that they are more tender and take a fraction of the time to cook as dried beans.
Winter squash is now in season, including acorn, butternut, honeynut, and kabocha.
Other vegetables that are in season right now include beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cardoons, cauliflower, celery, celery root, chard, collard greens, eggplant, fennel, horseradish, kale, mushrooms, mustard greens, parsnips, rapini, radicchio, rutabaga, sprouts, and turnips.
Quince — a fruit similar to pears but more sweetly floral — is still in season. Quince is very tanninc until cooked, which is why it is great for making jellies, jams, and quince paste. Quince paste is a secret standout when added to a cheese board, bringing some of the sweetness that a fig jam would but more floral. Many have described it almost as a guava paste, and sometimes, when the paste is rolled in sugar, it is served as a sweet treat. Quince is also great when poached, just like pears.
Maple is a common fall flavor and many greenmarket sellers offer fresh maple syrup. Use maple syrup to sweeten your coffee, liven up your roasts, or add a more complex sugar to your baked goods!
As always, meat, dairy, fish, honey, and bread are available year-round at greenmarkets.