Fresh is the new flavor of fall

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published September 18, 2017

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OAKLAND COUNTY — If someone told you that there was more — much more — to fall flavors than just that sugary pumpkin spice, would you believe them?

Well, get ready, because writer and culinary speaker Lisa Howard is about to introduce you to a whole new world of autumnal tastes during her vegetarian cooking class at The Community House in Birmingham Sept. 27.

The class, titled “From Your Garden to Your Kitchen: Vegetarian Dinners in 30 Minutes,” will highlight the yields of what Howard considers to be our most fruitful season.

“It’s called harvest time for a reason. So many people think of summer as the time for fresh produce, and then it ends. But September and October are the best months,” Howard, of Berkley, explained.

Much of the produce she plans to use during her class is inspired by what her own garden has produced this season, like zucchini, tomatoes and squash. But those without their own veggie patch can get the same goodies at their local farmers market.

“I really do make the assumption that those who don’t grow their own can go to the farmers market and get the same offerings. It’s the same thing, and it’s still local,” she said.

Indeed, the Oakland County Farmers Market does have squash in stock, along with a variety of root vegetables — like parsnips, rutabagas, onions, beets and carrots — plus potatoes, leeks, apples Brussels sprouts and so much more, according to Market Manager Jeremy Brown.

“Some people think that the produce trails off once the summer is over, but quite the contrary. Our farmers will have produce all the way up until Christmas,” he said. “The apples and root vegetables keep really well, and our vendors keep them in cold storage until they need to bring them to the market.”

There’s an added satisfaction, Brown thinks, when people get to buy their food directly from the farmer who grew it.

“I always ask myself if Brian’s potatoes (of Penzien Produce, in Imlay City) really taste better than store bought, or is it because I know Brian grew them? I would suspect it’s a bit of both,” he said.

Pumpkins are also ready to roll at the farmers market, and Howard said she’s a huge fan of the huge orange squash that’s traditionally associated with fall treats. Just leave the spice out of it, Howard said.

“I like pumpkin and I like lattes, but I would not combine them,” she said with a laugh. “Pumpkin is great, but go beyond the latte and think of what else you can do. Dice it up and roast it; use the seeds. You can make it sweet or savory.”

Howard has recipes for nearly all of Michigan’s famed hardy crops, including corn, apples, pears and greens. But she hopes the takeaway for students is to get into the kitchen and out of the aisles.

“People say it’s more expensive to eat healthy, but it actually costs less. I’ve done the math, and what costs more? Buying a pack of pumpkin seeds and a can of pumpkin flesh, or actually cooking it yourself? Why pay more for all-purpose flour when you can just buy the whole grain? You get to keep all of the parts, and you’re not paying double for the processing,” she said.

That’s especially true at the Oakland County Farmers Market, where low-income customers can “Double Up Food Bucks” and get twice the value for their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Bridge Card allowance when they shop at participating markets, which includes the vendors at the county market.

And if you can’t make Howard’s class, Brown said the vendors at the market know a thing or two about what cooking methods make their products shine, and they’re happy to share.

“You may see a Hubbard squash, but you don’t know how to prepare it, so you’ll shy away. Ask the farmer, and he’ll give you some tips,” he said.

For more on Lisa Howard, visit TheCulturedCook.com.

The Oakland County Farmers Market is located at 2800 Watkins Lake Road in Waterford.

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