We all know that carrots are one of the most nutritious root vegetables and an easy way to enjoy eating them is in carrot cakes, muffins or cookies, where their appetizing deep orange flesh can be used to advantage. If you haven’t baked with carrots before, try my Chocolate Chip Carrot Cake for a crowd pleaser. Carrot desserts can be made whenever you feel like them because the tapered crispy orange roots will store well right in the garden even in cold winter climates. Carrots actually sweeten up when touched by frost. If you live in an area with early cold and snow, lay down a heavy mulch over your carrot bed so that the soil won’t freeze and carrots will be easy to pull as needed for fall/winter use.
Tomatoes need to be completely harvested before the first frost, although you can stretch the season a bit by covering plants with row cover or even sheets; be sure they are supported around and over the plants. To be honest, I usually don’t bother, but pick all my green tomatoes as soon as frosts threaten. If they have even a hint of red or blush, they are wonderful to use for crunchy fried green tomatoes, Tomato Lemon Chutney, or pair with apples for Green Tomato And Apple Pies.
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The stars of the dessert tray, when it comes to the fall garden, are hard-shelled winter squashes like Butternut, Delicata and Kabocha and all kinds, colors and sizes of pumpkins. Harvest these long keeping fruits of the vine after they are well colored up and their outer rinds are tough and cannot be pierced with a fingernail. The vines will often have dried up or died back by this time. Pick them with a little “handle” of stem attached, and then cure them in the garden in full sun for a week or two if weather permits.
Store these long keepers in a cool dry place to use a needed for as long as 3 to 5 months. The flesh of both pumpkins and winter squashes is chock full of healthy vitamins, especially vitamin A, and lots of healthy fiber. Its taste pairs well with rich warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg as well as sweet flavorings like honey and maple syrup. Many winter squashes have naturally sweet flesh that when cooked has a wonderful nutty quality and flaky texture.
To prepare both pumpkins and winter squashes for use in baking, you need to cook them first, then remove their tough rinds and seeds. To do this, make a few slits all over the shell to allow steam to escape and set the fruit on a piece of foil in a 375 degree oven to bake for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on size, or until the shell is split and flesh is tender as a well baked potato. Or you can put them into the microwave and cook about 20 to 30 minutes at full power. Let the cooked squash cool thoroughly, then cut it open, scrape out the seeds and scoop the flesh off the rinds.
This “meat” is now ready to use as an ingredient in all kinds of baked goodies – you’ll find that winter squash and pumpkin are quite interchangeable in recipes so you can substitute one for the other any time it is convenient. Besides pumpkin or squash pie, they make delicious fruit butter, cakes, rich bars, muffins and cookies. The Pumpkin Orange Cheesecake is a really delicious way of using winter squash or pumpkins that has never failed to delight both friends and family.