Fall Food Highlights Around the U.S.
Each year around this time we give a gentle farewell squeeze to our farmers market tomatoes and peaches, tucking away memories of another summer’s brief but bright flings. Our sadness is lightened, though, by what comes next: citrus in every color; expedition-worthy mushrooms; squash that can be squished into a million different comfort foods. And those are just for starters. Across the U.S., autumn fills our pantries with reasons to celebrate. Here are the ones we’d saddle up for—and you should, too.
The Southern obsession with pecans may be a cliché, but it’s one with a kernel of truth: Come fall, they’re everywhere, celebrated at festival after festival below the Mason-Dixon. And the pecan love goes well beyond fairs and pies. For a drinkable version, try Louisville, KY's Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur. It’s made with brandy and aged (of course) in bourbon barrels, and isn't as sweet as you’d think. Try some neat or dressed up in the house cocktails at Proof Bar in the 21C Hotel.
Meanwhile, at Austin's Emmer & Rye, James Beard Award finalist Kevin Fink uses pecans he’s foraged and aged to render his own take on salsa macha, which he then dollops onto crispy sweet potatoes—another seasonal Southern favorite. They’re the stars, in fact, at Asheville, NC's Rhubarb, where chef John Fleer turns sweet potatoes into tostones and adds them to oven-roasted chicken, along with seared sweet potato vines and a mole-style barbecue sauce.
Early fall is also harvest season for the indigenous muscadine grape, which, for the uninitiated, are nothing like those bunches you buy at supermarkets. Muscadines are larger and rounder, and tough-skinned with a deeply sweet center. You can eat them fresh or preserved, but one of the best introductions you can get comes in a glass of something from the sweet side of the lineup at the South’s largest and oldest winery: Duplin, which operates tasting rooms in North and South Carolina and serves up generous pours on the fall festival circuit. Another worthy intro is the muscadine mostarda at Chef & the Farmer, where regional superstar Vivian Howard serves the sauce up in magical counterpoint to her pork, roasted brussels sprouts, and sausage.
In the Bay Area, November means Dungeness crabs. If you’re the adventurous type, go ahead and catch your own; we’d rather cast our net across San Francisco’s plentiful menus. The lines at Swan Oyster Depot, for instance, may be notoriously long, but they’re just as famously worthwhile. And the rewards include an upside-down crab back that doubles as a bowl for sweet meats and—in the words of Anthony Bourdain—unicorn juice (fast-forward to the 1:15 mark). To haute things up a bit, head across the Bay to Oakland’s Michelin-starred Commis, where chef James Syhabout also uses the crab shells as vessels, but stuffs them with sunchokes, crab meat and yuzu.
And because this is citrus season, too, you'll find yuzu in far more than crab shells. One of the tastiest places to look is inside the graham cracker pie shell at San Francisco's Prarie, where chef Anthony Strong makes a twist on key lime called yuzu ice box pie, with pine nuts, yuzu curd, Straus yogurt and candied yuzu peel.
Farther south, in the San Joaquin Valley, mandarins make their annual debut (the region produces 92 percent of the nation’s supply). Time your visit to the weekend before Thanksgiving and hit the Mandarin Festival at Gold County Fairgrounds, where you can stock up for the winter with a 10-pound bag and go temporarily mandarin-crazy with mandarin cider, wood-fired mandarin pizza, mandarin-glazed kettle corn, mandarin-pork tater tots, mandarin milkshakes, and—this being a fair and all—mandarin funnel cake. If that's not enough, keep the party going with locally produced mandarin-infused beers at nearby Crooked Lane Brewery. We like the Roaky Mandarin, a hazy New England style IPA; or the Carmen Mandarina Milkshake IPA, a to-hell-with-my-calorie-budget blend of citrus, malt, milk, sugar and vanilla.
Fall in New York's Hudson Valley is most definitely all about the apple; the fruit tumbles out of more than 30 orchards and countless farmers markets, restaurants and pie shops in the region this time of year. You can't go wrong with the pick-your-owns, but stop by Fishkill Farms for some of the best of the lesser-known varieties, like the sweet-tart Pixie Crunch or the buttery-sweet Shizuka. Get here for an October weekend and you'll also find a Fall Harvest Festival, with live music, wagon rides through the orchards and those all-important cider donuts.
If you’re more sipper than cruncher, stop by The Cidery at Westwind Orchard for a glass of the 2017 Kingston Black, made from English cider apples, or the 2017 Wild Wild East Reserve, made from crab apples and abandoned wild apples. Pair either drink with the tonnarelli cacio e pepe at the orchard’s restaurant, and you'll find yourself migrating back here every fall.
For a more formal meal, visit Gaskin’s, chef Nick Suarez’s cozy Germantown restaurant where dipping temperatures mean roasted apples and braised pork belly. Just be sure to save room for the apple and ginger galette with sweet cream ice cream.
Farther north, it's cranberry season; there are more than 14,000 acres of bogs in Massachusetts alone. To see how they work, book a Cape Cod Cranberry Bog Tour. Be here on Oct. 10 to get in on the Bog to Table Dinner by A.D. Makepeace Company and Off the Vine Catering, where you’ll get green salad with cranberry pecan rolls, roasted pork chops with cranberry and brown butter—plus a chocolate-cranberry tart.
The Pacific Northwest
Fall is all about fungi in the Pacific Northwest, where foragers comb the woods to find chanterelles, pig’s ears, lobster mushrooms and porcini, to name just a few. Join Terra Fleurs for a custom foraging tour—or hit the weekly PSU Farmers Market in Portland, OR, where the foraging's been done for you and the selection is staggering. Stop by Springwater Farm and Rick’s Wild Mushrooms to see what we mean. Or visit the city’s critically-acclaimed Kachka, where chef Bonnie Morales and her team make an autumn matsutake mushroom vodka that pairs especially well with the mushroom salad.
Meanwhile, the Sun Gold Farm stand at the PSU Farmers Market overflows with another seasonal favorite: winter squash. The farm is family-owned, which makes the 35 winter varieties they grow that much more impressive — everything from the familiar delicata to the lesser known red curry, pink banana and Long Island cheese. You can taste many of them in the house-made ravioli at Grassa. Meanwhile, at Tusk—another Portland hotspot—executive chef Sam Smith plans to serve a raw squash salad with pears, fermented hot peppers, red onion, herbs and pistachios. Of course, any fall foodie tour deserves its just desserts, and Tusk delivers with kabocha squash pie—a twist on classic pumpkin—with maple-candied pepitas, pumpkin seed whipped cream and autumn raspberries.