by Nathan Boyd
Let’s face it; it’s difficult for anyone of us not to enjoy the autumn season. The weather become refreshingly cooler and the days grow increasingly shorter while high in the night skies, the constellation Orion becomes more prominent. School spirits soar with the excitement of the football season and communities gather for the celebration of our fall festivals. Children of all ages delight in the practice of trick-or-treating at Halloween and during the last Thursday of every November, families will gather to give Thanks for the blessings in our lives. Everywhere you travel around this country, autumn is simply a special time of the year for sharing ourselves with our friends, families and members of our community.
With therefore no small amount of coincidence, as autumn was also the season of the harvest, we also find that many of the fruits of this season are also central to many of our celebratory practices as well. Cranberries are a staple item for our Thanksgiving meals with folklore even suggesting that this practice began with the Native American Indians bringing it to the first Thanksgiving. You can find the ever-popular apple celebrated at major food festivals during this time of year in the states of New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Washington. And certainly, Halloween wouldn’t be quite the same if we did not go bobbing for apples or carve Jack O’Lanterns out of pumpkins. So in further celebration of this wonderful time of year, let’s take a moment to learn some facts about two of our favorite fall fruits: the apple and the pumpkin.
The ultimate fall fruit, apples and autumn seem to have been perfectly made for each other. There are about 7,500 varieties of apples grown throughout the world, with approximately 2,500 of those varieties grown within the United States alone. Apples are grown in all 50 states, with 100 of those varieties cultivated commercially, and they come in virtually every shade imagined of red, green and yellow. And as Americans, we certainly love our apples. Consumers here in the United States have eaten an average of over 45 pounds of apples and processed apple products yearly, with 61% of those apples consumed as fresh fruits. China, however, has us beat when it comes to total apple production; they are the largest producer of apples in the world and have grown as much as 1.2 billion bushels of this famed fruit a year.
Nutritionally, the apple is an outstanding value for your money. They’re inexpensive, delicious, easy to carry, and yet are low in calories and high in fiber. They’re even fat and sodium free! When you do eat one, however, please do so with the skin left on. The skin contains a high concentration of the apple’s fiber and vitamins such as vitamin C. Just be sure to always wash your apple first (or any other fruit for that matter) to rinse off any dirt, oils, and insecticides that may remain. If you’re not sure how to find a good apple when shopping, then just remember to first look for those apples without any bruises or broken skin. Flicking your finger against the apple near the stalk can test the ripeness of the apple. If the sound you hear is dull, then it’s perfect for eating. If you’re not going to eat your apples right away, then try to store them in a cool, dry place, or within a plastic bag inside your refrigerator.
By the way, the U.S. Apple Association is promoting an “Apples for Santa” program to further help encourage healthy eating practices during the holidays. With this program, they are encouraging children to leave Santa an apple on Christmas Eve instead of a plate of sweets. For further fun and information on this program, please visit their website at:
Could you even imagine Thanksgiving dinner without pumpkin pie? Or Halloween celebrations without the Jack O’Lantern? Heck, could you even imagine the classic “Charlie Brown” cartoons without the “Great Pumpkin”? Somehow it just wouldn’t be autumn here in the U.S. without seeing those great orange gourds decorating both front lawns and table centerpieces. But the pumpkin have served many more purposes than simply being mere holiday ornaments and have actually enjoyed a lengthy history with our ancestors here in the Americas.
While roasted pumpkin seeds are known to make delicious snacks in themselves, the Native Americans were known to have used the pumpkin seeds for both food and medicinal purposes. The Native Americans had even used dried strips of pumpkins for mats. The colonists, meanwhile, were the ones who developed the precursor to our pumpkin pies by filling the inside of sliced off sections of pumpkin with milk, honey and spices and then baking them in hot ashes. Of interest, however, is the fact that the colonists had also been known to use pumpkin as an ingredient for pie crusts and not necessarily the filling.
Pumpkins are an outstanding source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is a precursor to Vitamin A; and a one-half cup of canned pumpkin can even provide you with an enormous five grams of fiber as well. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium and is cholesterol free. If shopping for a pumpkin to cook, your best bet is in purchasing a “pie pumpkin”, which is typically smaller than the pumpkins used for carving Jack O’Lanterns. Avoid pumpkins with any cracks, blemishes and moldy spots and look for ones that are firm and evenly colored instead. While there are many resources available for recipes that utilize pumpkin, just keep in mind that ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon will always compliment the flavor of pumpkin very nicely.
While the apple and the pumpkin may arguably be two of our most popular fall fruits, there are certainly many other notable fall fruits worth discussing. In next week’s column, we will examine three more of them: the cranberry, the pear, and the grape. So until then, enjoy your apple today and enjoy the wonders of this magical season!