Fall doesn't start until September 22, but the fields don't know that. Wander around any of the local farmers' markets and you'll see what we mean. Melons make way for muscadines, peaches for apples, and tomatoes for beets. Here are five fall ingredients we're most excited about—and our favorite ways local chefs are putting them to good use.Muscadines and Scuppernongs
We're not here to change your mind about muscadine wine. The grapes' tea-like sweetness makes it a love-or-hate situation in a glass. But they're a seasonal favorite for cooking and baking. Durham's Scratch brings out a muscadine-ricotta crostada (perfect for a sweet breakfast or snack). Nearby Alley Twenty-Six will incorporate a scuppernong-miso glaze on the dinner menu's slow-roasted pork belly and sweet potato dish (complete with another regional favorite: cracklins). The N.C. State Farmers' Market in Raleigh has a Grape Day on September 15, when shoppers can sample the grapes and treats made with them. You can stock up and make jelly, or you could get your fix without all the work, say, from Farmer's Daughter muscadine jelly.
At a supermarket, you'll find Red Delicious, Gala, and Granny Smith varieties, shiny and waxed like a car. At the farmers market, though, add Arkansas Black, Mutsu, Goldrush, and Honey Crisp Ginger Gold to the mix. Each has its own personality—sweet or tart, crisp or starchy. Raleigh's Lucettegrace uses Golden Delicious for its apple compote served with toasted almond cake, pecan blonde chocolate crunch, and a cheesecake mousse. East Durham Pie Company uses apples with local pears for one pie, and with Bull City Ciderworks cider and homemade caramel for another.
The term "superfood" gets tossed around a lot, but beets truly deserve it. They're full of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C to boost your immune system, fight inflammation, and even improve your athletic performance. They also taste great when grown and prepared with care. In Raleigh, Death & Taxes serves a Beet Your Maker cocktail with whiskey, cocchi Americano, beet (of course), five-spice, and lemon. Kimbap's miso-roasted beets are served with crème fraiche, peanuts, and mizuna greens. You can't go wrong with a lunch of beet sandwiches in Durham. Lucky's year-round standby includes roasted beets, herbed ricotta, and a delightful pistachio pesto. The Durham smokes beets for a vegetarian Reuben.
Beyond the spice lattes, Oreos, and one-thousand-plus-pound monster destined for many selfies at the State Fair, there are more subtle ways to celebrate the advent of winter squash. The Durham's fall menu includes roasted pumpkin with coconut oil, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and preserved tomato. Chef Andrea Reusing, who sources from Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, describes the pumpkin as "an incredible variety with super tender skin and very sweet, dense meat." Stanbury in Raleigh opts for butternut squash served with sage, pumpkin seed, and whipped ricotta on crostini made with Boulted Bread.
Pawpaw is a wild fruit native to several states across the Southeast, especially ours. The taste is somewhere between a banana and a mango, but that's like saying a grapefruit is somewhere between an orange and a lime. You have to try one to really get it. Find creative renditions in Panciuto's pawpaw shake in Hillsborough and Garland's pawpaw, pistachio, and saffron kulfi.