Markets offer fresh, seasonal foods

October 17, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

Now is the time to enjoy fresh apples, sweet potatoes, squash of all kinds, and pumpkins. Abundant supplies of the freshly harvested fruits and vegetables usually mean that they also are seasonally and reasonably priced.

Prices on the seasonal foods are comparable to those sold in the produce sections of supermarkets, but fruits and vegetables sold at farmers markets usually are newly picked and flavorful.

There's little, if any, time delay in transporting locally grown foods to market. Prices on some seasonal fruits and vegetables at farmers markets might be less than those at supermarkets. You also will discover fruits and vegetables sold at the local markets will be of various shapes and sizes, not always uniform in appearance.

Shopping the local markets can be social and also educational. You can speak with growers and ask questions. That can be particularly important during apple season, as different varieties have different characteristics, flavors and uses. For example, Jonathan, Empire and McIntosh are excellent baking apples. Gala, Fuji and Jonagolds, which blend characteristics from Jonathan apples with those of Golden Delicious, are great apples for eating by themselves. Visit the Maryland Apple Promotion Board ( for more information about Maryland apple varieties.


Apples truly are one of the season's nutritional bargains - they are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free, high in fiber and low in calories. One medium apple has about 80 calories.

Sweet potatoes are another vegetable you can find in the fall. Sweet potatoes have thin skins that dent and bruise easily and should be handled with care. Store them in a cool (55 to 60 degrees), dry place, such as a pantry or garage and not in the refrigerator. If stored at too low a temperature, the natural sugars in sweet potatoes turn to starch.

Wait to wash sweet potatoes until ready to cook them. Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, microwaved and even grilled. To grill sweet potatoes, slice them into rounds about 1/2 inch thick, spray them lightly with vegetable cooking spray, and place them on the grill before the meat. Turn the potatoes once; when fork tender, they're done.

One medium sweet potato has 117 calories; it is naturally sweet and rich in nutrients such as beta-carotene. Though an excellent vegetable, sweet potatoes also lend themselves to puddings, pies, breads and muffins.

Fall squashes, including butternut and acorn squash, also should be abundant at fall markets. Squashes vary in size and shape but generally are low in calories and fat, and easy to bake and serve.

Farmers markets also are likely to have pumpkins in all sizes and shapes. Although many of us use the pumpkins for holiday decorations, they also can be cut, seeded and cooked as a vegetable or made into puddings and pies, breads, cakes or muffins.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables available at the fall farmers markets vary weekly, but that's all the more reason to go often.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture's Web site will provide you information regarding local farmers markets:

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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