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Early Autumn


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I bought two Magness pears from Black Rock Orchard last week. (I know Twin Springs grows them, too, and I gather others do.) Left them out to ripen fully for about two days.

AMAZINGly good this year! Francophiles take note--and anyone allergic to apples would be hard pressed to feel deprived w a cache of these on hand.

* * *

The Magness pear is a cross between a Seckel and Comice. It resembles the former, if basketball player in size and with none of the ruddiness you'll find on its diminutive ancestor. Doesn't balloon like a Comice, but has its characteristic juiciness and smooth, ungritty texture when fully ripe. Handle w care; it bruises easily and gets over-ripe really, really fast.

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Talking to farmers from West Virginia, Southern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia yesterday at Dupont Circle, I learned it was the last week most would be carting ripe tomatoes to town on market day.

Surprisingly, the one farmer who said field tomatoes might return October 18 lives in Southern Pennsylvania. Go figure. Usually, West Virginia has the earliest and longest growing season and Southern Pennsylvania is the slow poke with the first frost.

West Virginians weren't sure about all the other stuff affected by frost either. According to Eli Cook of Spring Valley, his gorgeous little haricots verts withstand temperatures as low as 28 F because of the system used to protect crops. Really cold temperatures were predicted for last night and tonight, so we'll see.

So what's around now as we move from early to mid-October in 2009?

Dark greens come in larger bundles with long, broad leaves. At this time of year, they tend to be a better deal than in supermarkets since you get more in your bundle for around the same price (sometimes a bit more or less):

  • Collards
  • Kales (Tuscan, Red Russian, frilly generic). Folk wisdom: collards & kale both develop deeper flavor after the first frost.
  • Spicy Mustard & Turnip (okay, not so dark)
  • Chard

Things with tender, thin leaves vs. the tough, thick, yellowing, and depending on type, overly spicy ones that appear before they stop growing altogether on hot summer days: arugula, lettuces, spinach.

Yesterday there was one farm with corn. Several with cucumbers, yellow and green summer squash. Chili, frying and bell peppers of all types. Eggplants. Several varieties of green beans, lima beans (new return), okra. At least five-six places to buy tomatoes, though one of my favorites brought none, and another, only a few boxes of mixed cherry tomatoes. There will be plenty of green tomatoes next week for the annual sacrifice to the gods of winter. Lots of herbs for salad days.

The rest were true fall and winter vegetables that come in leafy bulbs, balls or some other variation on the sphere, if irregular or ridged. Root vegetables. Brassai. Some are new or fairly so: broccoli and its rabe, Romanesco, cauliflower. Brussels sprouts have been around for a while. More types of cabbages. Asian greens both dark and pale. Parsnips. Carrots (new again). Beets. Kohlrabi. Celery root. Pumpkins, and just about every type of winter squash. Potatoes, white, yellow and sweet. Onions. Leeks. Shallots. Garlic. More varieties of radishes than last year.

Among the odd, unusual or unexpected: cardoons and stinging nettles.

At markets with foragers, there should be Chanterelles.

Still some choices of fruit for dessert or snacks: tiny kiwi, Asian mulberries, raspberries (another week?), even figs and a few grapes. Otherwise: apples and pears. I saw one Virginian farm bearing organic Gold Rush already. More as the weeks go by.

No fresh shelling beans spotted this week, though some farms are drying the ones picked this summer. They should appear soon.

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