Finally we have arrived into the season of abundance and harvest. Although, plenty of food is available, the categories are leaning towards savory foods like vegetables rather than the sweet foods like fruits that were plentiful in the summer.
Now back to this season and what it means to truly eat seasonally…
Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the element for autumn is Metal and represents the process of refinement, introversion, contraction and quieting. All living things begin to get rid of things they no longer want or need, and turn their energy inward toward quieter activities. The trees lose their leaves. Fruits and vegetables are harvested in large quantities, or we risk them dropping to the earth to rot as the plant’s energy returns to the earth. The temperature becomes cooler and the days become shorter as the high heat and energy of the summer dissipates.
For humans, harvest time means there is plenty of food to eat… and we eat a lot of it during this season! Our history dictated that the bounty of fall was an opportunity to fatten ourselves up before the scarcity and cold of winter. The best image of this is the Thanksgiving table and all of the wonderful foods that are available as we huddle in our homes with people we love — relaxing, eating and connecting. For those who have the time, space and inclination, this is the time of year to can, dry and salt various foods so they are available during the winter. It’s a time to nourish our bodies and spirits.
I know people talk about spring cleaning, but according to TCM, autumn is the season to get rid of what no longer serves you before you hunker down for the winter surrounded by only what is necessary and beneficial.
There’s No Need to Fatten Up
Although our ancestors needed to put on extra weight during autumn to survive the winter, this is no longer a necessary part of our year. Food is readily available year round, which means we don’t need to store our calories on our bodies. That being said, eating with the season is a wonderful way to keep the rhythm of your body in sync with the rhythm of the earth.
The flavor of the season is pungence — strong flavors that stimulate the body and disperse energy so that we don’t get stagnate too early in the year. Pungent foods include those that warm the body like garlic, onions, chili peppers, mustard greens, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, and some that cool the body like radishes, cabbage, turnip and citrus peels (although that seems contradictory!).
The vegetables of the season are the roots and tubers that represent the energy of plants returning to the earth. Examples include potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, carrots, ginger, garlic and onions. The fruits that represent Metal are those that need to be peeled, as this is the essence of taking away that which is unnecessary. These fruits include bananas, citrus fruits and mangoes. Just be aware that most fruits are considered “cooling” to the body, so they should be limited during this season when the body is trying to store up heat for the winter.
The color of the season is white, so all white foods are good to strengthen Metal’s energy. I know some people avoid “white food” such as white potatoes and white rice. Even though I don’t buy into those restrictions, if you do, there are others to consider like cauliflower, onions, turnips and parsnips.
What’s in Season
Three notes before getting into all the foods that are in season for autumn:
- Autumn is a varied season so some foods are only available at the beginning (early) and some at the end (late). I’ve tried to note this where applicable.
- This list does not include things that are considered, from a farming perspective, to be in season year round like apples, arugula, bananas, carrots and celery.
- True seasonality varies by location, so check with your farmers’ market or on-line local publications (like this one for the US from Epicurious) to get the most accurate list.
Vegetables and herbs:
|Artichoke (early)||Basil (early)||Bell peppers (early)||Beets|
|Beet greens (early)||Broccoli (late)||Brussels sprouts||Cabbage|
|Cauliflower||Chamomile||Chard (early)||Chinese long beans|
|Garlic||Ginger||Green beans||Hearts of palm|
|Lemon balm||Lemon grass||Mache (late)||Marjoram|
|Salsify||Sorrel (early)||Spinach (early)||Squash – acorn|
|Squash – butternut||Squash – chayote||Squash – delicata||Sunchoke (late)|
|Sweet potatoes||Thyme||Turnips||Water cress|
|Asian pear||Barbados cherries||Cactus pear||Cape gooseberries (aka, ground cherries)|
|Crab apples||Cranberries||Date plum||Grapes|
|Guava||Kiwi (late)||Kumquats||Limes (early)|
|Mangoes||Oranges (late)||Passion fruit||Pears|
|Raspberries||Quince||Tamarillo (late)||Tangerines (late)|
|Ugli fruit (late)|
Autumn continues to be a great time for fresh fish, at least at the beginning of the season. Fresh water varieties include black bass (early), kokanee (early), muskellange (early), northern pike, pickerel, striped bass (early), trout (early) and walleye.
From the salty seas and oceans, Dover sole – Pacific, john dory (not from US waters generally and only early in the season), mahi mahi (early), marlin – striped (late), onaga (late), opakapaka, salmon – king, skate (late), tuna – albacore (early) and tuna – bigeye are in season.
If you are feeling decadent, lots of seafood is also in season, including clams, crab (late), lobster (early), mussels, oysters (late) and scallops (late).
Don’t forget you can continue to get year round fish like amberjack (yellowtail kingfish), American shad, arctic char, black drum, catfish, crappie, hiramasa (sashimi grade yellowtail kingfish), ono (wahoo), opah (moonfish), sunfish, swordfish, tilapia and yellow perch.
Please note that some fish are regional, which should be considered related to freshness and seasonality.
Pasture-raised and game meats are best in fall and winter after having grazed on sweet grass all summer. As well, duck, goose (late), lamb (early), partridge, pheasant (November only), quail (late), rabbit and venison are in season.
It’s worth noting that egg production is lowest in fall, when chickens are allowed to follow their natural cycle. Although eggs will continue to be available all season, consider if they are truly free-range chickens and, therefore, if the yolks and whites will have all the nutrients you are looking for.
—Chef’s Resource Inc. Fresh Fish Availability Chart. Accessed on September 29, 2015. http://www.chefs-resources.com/Fresh-Fish-Availability
— Eat the Seasons. Accessed on September 29, 2015. http://www.eattheseasons.com/october.php
— New York State Department of Conservation. Statewide angling regulations. In Outdoor Activities. Accessed on September 29, 2015. http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/31421.html
— Orange County Herb Society. Seasonal Guide to Herb Gardening. Accessed on September 29, 2015. http://www.ocherbsoc.org/seasons.html
— Produce for Better Health Foundation. What’s in Season? Summer. Accessed on September 29, 2015. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/whats-in-season-fall
— Reichstein G. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Kodansha International; 1998.
— Salatan J. Seasonal Eating Supports Local Farmers. Mother Earth News. 2007. Accessed September 29, 2015. http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/seasonal-eating-zmaz07aszgoe.aspx?PageId=1
— United States Department of Agriculture. Seasonal produce guide. In SNAP-Ed Connection. Accessed September 29, 2015. http://snap.nal.usda.gov/nutrition-through-seasons/seasonal-produce