As we move into November, the very last of our summer vegetables are disappearing. Even without a hard frost, summer vegetables lose their vigor as they shiver through the first cold nights.
Tomatoes start to taste mealy, as though they have been in the refrigerator. Peppers hang on in the hoop house, but seem to toughen up with thicker skin. Other plants like green beans and summer squash deflate and collapse on the first chilly days.
Thankfully, fresh fall vegetables are ready to step into the void. Even with pumpkin-filled October behind us, we are still awash in orange vegetables. This is the season for sweet potatoes, acorn and butternut squash and, of course, using up those pumpkins.
You may have noticed lots of beautiful orange winter vegetables appearing at area farmers markets along with the start of fall greens. On our farm, we harvested lots of butternut and acorn squash this year, and we are trying to figure out new ways to eat it. After the harvest, winter squash becomes sweeter in storage with each passing week and more attractive as the other vegetables vanish.
We always start out very simply. We slice and bake acorn squash drizzled with olive oil and sometimes a little honey. It is so fun to toast the first seeds with a little salt. The simplest preparation can be the best way to taste the first of each harvest since almost a year has passed and we like to be reminded of exactly how it tastes.
But then a couple of weeks later when there are still crates of squash piled high, we need to come up with a few more options. Even though we have been growing these vegetables for more than a decade, experimenting with cooking always makes them new. The children are older, tastes are changing and we need to keep innovating.
This year, it is our five-year-old who most enjoyed harvesting pumpkins and squash while our eight-year-old rode his new almost-grown-up-sized bike around the field. At five she is strong enough to carry big pumpkins to the crates, while our son startles us by looking like a teenager when he whips by on his bike.
So while we have been growing the same varieties of squash for more than a decade, each new year calls for new recipes and innovation. In particular, I have been on the lookout for easy, lunchbox-packable vegetable recipes, which brought me to this simple recipe for baked butternut squash fries.