I know I have mentioned this before, fall is my absolute favorite time of year! I love the cooler weather, the fall traditions, and most importantly the flavors of fall! While pumpkin spice is probably the first thing that comes to mind when most of you think fall, there are so many amazing seasonal ingredients to cook with!
Last weekend I took a stroll around The Green City Market, one of Chicago's oldest and biggest weekly farmers markets. Like many, this farmers market runs from mid May through the end of October. Small independent farms come out to sell their fresh (and local!) produce. One of my favorite things to do is to create recipes just from what I have found at the farmers markets. By doing this I can usually create a colorful, nutrient-packed meal from all local ingredients. The foodie in me gets excited about a good farmers market for a number of reasons:
First, the local vendors – It’s SO cool to be able to support the local economy by purchasing directly from the source. You’re helping tons of small family businesses/family owned farms. According to an article released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 88% of farms in the United States are small family farms. That means that it is these small family owned farms keeping our agriculture industry booming!
Second, know where your food is coming from! Most Chicago farmers markets have vendors coming from all over Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, as well as small businesses from all over the city! I think it’s great to know that I’m eating fruit that was grown in an orchard in Michigan rather than some plantation outside of Guadalajara; less traveling means less handling and faster farm to table time!
Last, there is nothing tastier than fresh produce and handmade/homemade cheeses and breads! In terms of cooking with those freshest of fresh ingredients: you can truly taste the difference! When you have fresh, high quality ingredients recipes can stand to be much more simple and yet somehow they taste so much more incredible.
Typical produce you might find at your local farmers market in the fall can include squash varieties, apples, and sweet potatoes. Squash varieties you might come across include yellow squash, zucchini, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and butternut squash. These are some of my favorite veggies to cook with all winter long!
Squash is rich in beta carotene, this is what your body uses to make vitamin A. Vitamin A is a key player in helping to promote good eye sight; it also aids in immune system health and general cell growth. Spaghetti squash is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the good-for-you fat. And pumpkin, also a member of the squash family can lower your risk of Cataracts disease. Lastly, squash can also help to control your blood pressure. All of these health impairments (high blood pressure, slower cell growth, and diabetic retinopathy) are common in diabetics and these foods can all help in lowering your risk!
Apples are another fall favorite of mine and there are so many ways to incorporate them into delicious fall dishes! From apple pie, to corn bread stuffing, I love to cook with apples in the fall! The old saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" actually holds true! In fact, apples can reduce tooth decay by lowering the levels of bacteria in your mouth. They can also help to protect against both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, they can reduce cholesterol, they are considered hearth healthy, AND studies show that women who eat at least one apple a day are 28% less likely to develop type 2 Diabetes.
Sweet potatoes are considered one of the healthiest foods, and for a number of reasons! For years, I have been substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes in almost all recipes, and quite honestly I think it adds an amazing flavor dimension! Sweet potatoes are chocked full of Vitamin A, C, B-6, and potassium. While Vitamins A and C promote vision and a health immune system, B-6 helps to convert food into energy and metabolize (or process) fats and protiens. Potassium can help to promote healthy blood pressure, a healthy heart and kidneys, prevent stroke and promote muscle balance.
With that said, I highly encourage you to head over to your local farmers markets! There are a lot of healthy (and delicious) treasures to be found. Happy hunting everyone!