It’s cold outside, the leaves are falling, and in some places, snow is, too. But it’s still not too late to go to the farmers market.
The place you thought was just for summer is also hot in November and December selling a long list of seasonal produce and other products to close out the year.
Take a trip there, and you’ll find delicious sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, cider and crazy looking gourds.
You can dish the veggies up by themselves or turn them into casseroles, pies, soups, muffins and more. Plus, you can use your creative skills to turn them into pieces of art.
Squash vs. gourds
The difference between squash and gourds is that squash is grown to be eaten, and gourds are mainly for decoration.
Depending on where you live, your market may feature acorn, butternut, spaghetti, hubbard, sweet dumpling and delicata squash, all of which are great for roasting, soups and bisques, and many traditional holiday meals.
And let’s not forget that spaghetti squash, aptly named because it comes apart in spaghetti-like strands after being cooked, makes a great low-carb, low-calorie, gluten-free, nutrient-rich substitute for your favorite pasta. It’s right up there with zoodles!
When you’re buying the squash, go for the ones with stems that are not shriveled, blackened or moist. Squash stores best with part of the stem still attached to help retain moisture. Once you cut it open, wrap it up in plastic and store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep up to four to five days.
If you don’t get those squash eaten right away, the acorn and spaghetti varieties store about a month and butternut stores two to three months. Don’t store them near apples, pears or ripening fruit as they may rot.
While your recipes may drive your squash selection, your creative eye will lead you to your gourds. Autumn wing gourds have little wings or horns, lots of character and a little bit of ugly.
Warted gourds (surprise, they’re the ones that have little warts all over them) are the autumn wing gourd’s ugly sister. Their looks are a good thing, though, because their sizes, shapes and colors look great on display.
Think centerpieces, wreaths, tea light holders, squash bowls for appetizers … you get the idea. And if you don’t, check out fall craft ideas online.
Consider buying a few extra for craft projects for the little ones, like making faces on them by gluing on items or using markers. It might help keep them out of trouble during family gatherings.
Shopping for others
Those winter vegetables aren’t the only reason to go to the farmers market during the last few months of the year.
It’s also an excellent place to get gifts for the hosts of your upcoming holiday parties, like freshly made bread, flowers, apple pie, jams and jellies, cheeses, honey, locally roasted coffee and handmade soaps and candles.
You can also stock up for your own feasts there by visiting the local vendors for farm-raised poultry, beef or pork.
Holiday shop hops
Look for special events at your market around the holidays. It may be having a holiday bazaar or have special hours before Thanksgiving or Christmas so you can get fresh produce. Of course, Christmas trees always show up at the market in December, along with all the holiday trimmings to continue your decorating.
And the good news is that there’s a growing trend of hoop house gardening, enabling more parts of the country to extend their growing season. That can only mean more offerings at the markets throughout the year.