Harvest season on the North Fork is a great time to stock up on all the bounty that grows out here. Right now corn, pumpkins and apples are on everybody’s shopping list, but there is also a whole crop of lesser known fruits and vegetables you may not be familiar with. For example, have you ever tried a Jerusalem artichoke or eaten cranberry beans?
This produce is just as tasty and healthy as the usual fruits and vegetables we always eat, they’re just not that well known in this country — yet. So the next time you’re out here try some of the lesser known produce that’s also being harvested.
1. Jerusalem Artichokes
This name is really a misnomer, because the vegetable neither comes from Jerusalem nor is an artichoke. According to Phil Barbato, owner of Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport, it comes from the sunflower family, and the only edible part is the root. Barbato grows the plant on his farm, and it does double duty by also growing a beautiful flower he uses in his bouquets.
“It’s funny because the Italian word for sunflower is girasole,” Barbato said. “So somehow girasole got turned into Jerusalem.”
Most of Barbato’s produce goes to his CSA customers, and when he provides an unusual item like the Jerusalem artichoke, he includes instructions. This week Barbato is including a recipe by New York Times former food critic Craig Claiborne for Jerusalem Artichoke Provençale. Barbato also recommends roasting them, as well as eating them raw. The flavor is like a very mild radish with a crunchy texture.
“I like them in salads, cut into little thin slices,” he said.
2. Ground Cherries
Another unusual vegetable Barbato grows at Biophilia is the ground cherry, also known as the husk cherry.
“They’re in the tomatillo family, but they’re more like little candies,” Barbato said. “They’re somewhere between a tomato and a cherry.”
Bright yellow out of their natural wrapper, they look like and have the consistency of a cherry tomato but with a sweeter, much more fruit-like flavor.
“You can eat them as a snack, put them on top of your salad, or can them like a jam,” Barbato said.
In addition to its CSA program, Biophilia Organic Farm sells its produce at the Port Jefferson Farmer’s Market on Sundays.
3. Cheese Pumpkins
When it comes to the country’s oldest cultivated foods, few have the heritage of the Long Island cheese pumpkin.
It is also called the fairy pumpkin, because of its similarity to Cinderella’s magic carriage, and it’s sad to think this regional squash almost disappeared.
Gone from commercial seed catalogs by the 1970s, it was stowed by local seed saver and now-retired Suffolk Community College botany professor Ken Ettlinger.
“It’s very edible,” Ettlinger said. “The creamy texture and extra sweetness is something you find with the cheese pumpkin.”
In fact, the cheese pumpkin was Ettlinger’s mother’s first choice when making her pumpkin pies.
“It wasn’t the Halloween pumpkin,” Ettlinger said. “They’re more stringy and not as flavorful.”
Ettlinger, who works with the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium, recommends using the cheese pumpkin like any other squash.
“Cube it, boil or mash it, as well as bake it,” he said. “A lot of people like it thrown in with a roast, cut up in chunks, where it’ll cook nicely with other fall vegetables.”
Long Island Cheese Pumpkins are currently available at many North Fork farm stands like Bayview Market and Farms in Aquebogue.
4. Cranberry Beans
Another unusual vegetable also available for sale at Bayview is the cranberry bean.
Bright red with a swirly design, cranberry beans inside are just as colorful as their exterior. They resemble kidney beans in size and texture.
“You have to shell them out of the pod,” Bayview Market co-owner Katie Reeve said. “We sell them wholesale to a lot of restaurants in the city.”
Reeve says the beans are used in many Italian dishes like Pasta Fagioli, in place of cannellini beans.
5. Ornamental peppers
Although these pretty-to-look-at plants are totally edible, you might want to steer clear of actually taking a bite.
“They are really hot and they don’t have a lot of a flavor,” said Zachary Lemmon, a horticultural researcher growing the plants at the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Riverhead farm. “As the name suggests, it really is just for decoration and ornamental purposes.”
This is the second season researchers have grown the peppers at the Sound Avenue facility.
When the plant ripens, the peppers first turns deep purple, then yellow, then orange and red. Each pepper ripens at a different time giving the plant the look of a collection of large, multi-colored Christmas bulbs.
“They all go through the same sequence of color changes,” Lemmon said.
The plant displays a rainbow of colors in mid-September, but next week, most should be all red.
Lemmon said you might be able to find this plant in the floral department of your local grocery store.