Here's a question: Why should pumpkin be the de facto fall flavor in everything from coffee to soup to ice cream? As sublime as it can be in many applications (pies, savory galettes, roasted to caramelized perfection), the true star in autumn's crown is the apple. Consider: Even a particularly dry-fleshed variety can be eaten raw with ease. They're hand-sized and easily portable; they don't need peeling or seeding, and you can eat the core if there's no compost bin handy. Apples keep better in cold storage than winter squash, and thanks to centuries of thoughtful breeding, apples have been customized to every taste and application.
(Forgive me, pumpkins. When some botanist comes up with a Jack-Be-Little that tastes like pie, we'll talk.)
Here are some notes on this week's apples at the Farmstand, from Beechwood Orchards, Three Springs Fruit Farm, and Kauffman's Fruit Farm. We're always adding new varieties this time of year, so keep an eye out for new varieties to try.
FUJI: It's easy to spot these by their skin: It's smooth and shiny, with a dull buff color amid pink and green. A descendant of Red Delicious featuring dense, sweet flesh with lots of crunch.
GALA: A Golden Delicious descendant with yellow-red skin marked with north-south striping. Lots and lots of sweet flavor; less-dense, somewhat grainy texture but still pleasantly crunchy.
HONEYCRISP: The Cadillac of apples. Big, juicy, crunchy, with the extra-sweet flavor that gives this variety its name.
IDA RED: Mild flavor, juicy and tasty - this variety has a thinner skin and slightly softer flesh, similar to Macintosh.
JONATHAN: Bright, bold and tart on your tongue at first, with a texture like a really good Red Delicious (not too crisp, but not mealy).
MUTSU: A descendant of Golden Delicious developed in Japan in the 1930s - it's bigger, with an almost spicy note beneath its sweetness. My favorite for desserts, but perfectly edible out of hand (although you might want to cut it up first).
NITTANY: York Imperial (which we should be stocking soon) is its mom, and it's named for Penn State, where it was developed. Fantastic for baking and processing, with a lovely yellow color to its flesh when cooked.
SMOKEHOUSE: Another PA original from the early 19th century. Still the perfect combination of sweet-tart-juice, still my favorite apple. It has this unnameable depth of flavor, kind of like the umami of apples, that keeps me coming back.
WINESAP: Winesaps taste fine raw but really shine in cooked dishes and cider. If you notice the occasional rough, brownish spot on the skin of this variety (or others), know that it's normal - that's called russeting, and some varieties are more prone to it than others.
Other fun fall additions this week: ORGANIC BLUE RADISHES, which are actually kind ofpurple; beautiful gold ORGANIC BITNJE POTATOES; gorgeous ORGANIC DEEP PURPLE SWEET POTATOES; bargain-priced I.P.M. GREEN TOMATOES (pickle some today or make a cake!); and earthy CHEMICAL-FREE BROCCOLI RABE.