What fruits and vegetables are in season always depends on where you are. This is a little extra true come winter when the difference between different climates becomes more extreme. Still, between cold weather crops (kale!), storage fruits (apples!) and vegetables (potatoes!), and the use of methods including hoop houses to extend the natural growing season, eating locally well into winter is possible in more areas than ever before. The exact crops available in your area will vary, of course, but keep your eyes open for this fresh winter produce, heavy on cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruit, and root vegetables—whether it’s at your local farmers market or in the grocery aisles.
Beets are available much of the year in temperate climates, from baby “spring” beets when farmers thin their fields in the spring, full-grown specimens in the fall, and from storage in winter. If you see fresh beets with their greens attached, grab them—it’s a two-for-one deal since those greens can be cooked up just like Swiss chard.
Broccoli grows year-round in temperate climates such as cooler coastal areas in California, so it’s easy to forget it even has a season. The secret cooler climate growers know is that it tastes sweeter, with less bitterness and sharpness, when harvested after being exposed to a nip of frost or at least a solid chill in the air. You may be used to discarding the stems. Don’t! Peel off the tough skin to reveal tender crunchiness within. Snack on it with a dip or use it in a salad or slaw.
Broccoli raabe (aka rapini) is a looser, leafier, and generally less bitter cousin of broccoli. Sauté it with a touch of garlic and red pepper or stir-fry it with some ginger and soy. And know that it is particularly good with sausage.
Brussels sprouts also like cooler weather. These mini-cabbage-looking vegetables grow on stalks in a most striking manner. If you see them for sale still on their stalks, you know they’re fresh. Be sure to remove them from the stalk and pop them in a bag in the fridge to store them for more than a day. Then check out the many ways to cook them.
Cabbage (maybe we should start calling giant Brussels sprouts based on the former’s popularity!), like broccoli and its other cruciferous cousins, tastes sweeter when it’s been “frost kissed,” so some farmers leave it in the field until that happens. When kept loosely wrapped and in the fridge, cabbage lasts a remarkably long time so feel free to grab one at the market and figure out what to do with it later, such as this sauté.
Cardoons only grow in dry and sunny climates. These thick, long stalks with pointy leaves look like dinosaur food but taste a lot like artichokes. Peel the thick skin and blanch cardoons before frying or braising them.
Carrots will be available fresh and fully in-season in temperate and warmer climates. In cooler areas, they will likely be available from storage well into and even through winter. Crunch them as-is, roast them until browned and tender, or use them to make stunning soup.
Cauliflower is another cruciferous delight that doesn’t mind a little chill in the air before being harvested. Know that cauliflower leaves, stem, and core are all edible—chop and cook them together with the florets. There are tons of ways to cook cauliflower, from roasting to ricing and mashing.
Celery root (aka celeriac) looks like a dirty, hairy softball but tastes utterly yum. Whether it’s fresh-fresh in winter or from storage, be sure to remove all of the fibrous peel before using—use a paring knife to cut out the peel from the usually plentiful grooves. Grate it, blanch it, and dress it with homemade mayonnaise for a classic French salad. Or slice or chop it and add it to soups and stews of all sorts for a “hey, what’s this delicious potato” effect.
Chicories such as radicchio, treviso, escarole, and the various endives tend to come into season in late fall and early winter in a lot of places. The leaves are sharply bitter when raw, so they’re a good foil for sweet dressing and fresh fruit in salads. They turn meltingly tender and mellow when braised. Belgian endive, that almost-white chicory, is almost exclusively grown in artificial conditions—a complete lack of light is what keeps it white. Traditionally it was kept in the dark by being buried in sand and harvested in late fall and winter; it’s now usually grown inside and available year-round.
Cranberries are in season in late fall and early winter. Go beyond the classic sauce and try them in a cocktail or as an easy dessert. If you love them and wish that season were longer, here’s an old recipe developer’s trick: buy a few extra bags around Thanksgiving and throw them in the freezer. These shiny red orbs freeze beautifully for up to a year.
Fennel bolts and turns icky bitter in warmer weather, so in temperate climates it gets harvested from late fall into spring. A fresh bulb will keep a shockingly long time if loosely wrapped and stored in the fridge. Thinly slice it into a salad for a crunchy crisp lightly anise flavor or cook it down to utter tenderness and bring out its essential sweetness.
Grapefruit is a winter and spring fruits where it grows, which in terms of commercial crops is primarily California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. After you’ve had your fill of classic grapefruit halves at breakfast, try using them in desserts, drinks, and salads.
Horseradish is a root vegetable. Like celery root, it looks dirty and a bit hairy before you peel it. While it usually gets harvested in the fall, it stores remarkably well, so you may see it “fresh” well into winter. In many cases, freshly grated horseradish can be used in recipes that call for “prepared horseradish,” just know that the fresh version may pack more of a punch. Note that it makes a particularly tasty addition to mashed root vegetables of all sorts.
Kale is the heartiest of all the hearty cooking greens. As such, it survives well into winter in many climates. As a cruciferous vegetable, it also gets a bit less bitter when exposed to a nice dose of chilly air. Go beyond sauteing and salads—kale can be roasted, tossed in soups, and more. Or try this stir-fry with mustard seed and coconut.
Kiwis like the same conditions—mild winters and warm but not super hot summers—as grapes. They are harvested in winter and spring. They’re great peeled and eaten as-is, or try them in fruit salads or cocktails.
Kohlrabi is another cruciferous vegetable that’s harvested in late fall and often available well into winter. Peel it, slice it, and crunch on it raw or add it to stews as you might the turnip it looks so much like (well, a turnip with kale leaves growing out of it). Or know you can roast it, mash it, or pickle it.
Kumquats are tiny baby-size citrus fruits with an edible peel. Seriously, don’t try and peel a kumquat—you won’t be left with any fruit when you’re done! They make a great snack and are also delicious halved and added to salads for a burst of color and almost-sweet-but-really-quite-tart flavor. Chop them into a bright salsa, use them in a pie, or make a sweet compote.
Leeks are harvested in fall and early winter in many areas. While they don’t store as well as their allium cousins onions and garlic, they will last quite a while in cold storage—including your fridge. In general, you want leeks with stiff deep green leaves. Leeks with wilted green tops or green tops that have been chopped way down (they were likely so-cut to hide just how sad and wilted the tops had become) aren’t ideal, but if you’re just looking for something to chop and add to a soup, they’ll work just fine. Find a range of ways to use them here.
Lemons, including famed sweet Meyer lemons, are primarily harvested in January and into spring. As with all citrus fruit, look for lemons that feel heavy for their size. And as with all citrus fruit except satsumas, you also want a smooth, tight, firm skin.
Onions and shallots are harvested in the fall in most areas. They are the ultimate storage vegetable, getting “cured” or lightly dried out after harvest before being stored. They’re also good for more than providing a base layer of aromatics in soups and stews. See these onion-centric recipes for ideas.
Oranges and tangerines were once deeply associated with Christmas since they came into season in winter and store well enough to be shipped to far-flung places far from where the warm-weather crop would grow. Mandarins, satsumas, clementines, pixies, and more bring a sunny cheer to winter markets. Find fun ways to use them here.
Parsnips, like most root vegetables, store well. In fact, since they grow underground, they can be left there and harvested well after snow has fallen. They may look like white carrots, but they have a less sweet, much nuttier flavor. For the best result, consider cutting out the woody core before cooking.
Pears come into season from mid-summer into winter—different types are harvested at different times. Like apples, pears keep in storage quite well, which also helps extend their natural season and distribution.
Persimmons have a short late fall and early winter season, so catch them when you can. Both Hachiya and Fuyu varieties have the same season, but quite different uses. Hachiya persimmons are traditionally thought of as “baking persimmons” since they are insanely tannic and tart if eaten before mushily ripe, at which point they are better added to baked goods than eaten straight. Fuyu persimmons, however, are delicious while still quite firm and make a tasty addition to a fall or winter salad.
Pomelos look and taste like giant grapefruit. Big and bright and sunny, they are in season starting in January where they grow. Like other citrus, they travel well.
Potatoes are often available from storage through the winter after the fall harvest. Store them in a cool, dark place away from onions and use as long as they don’t sprout or turn green. Then roast them, mash them, spice them up, or pop them on homemade focaccia.
Radishes, at least the larger ones such as daikon, watermelon, and black or Spanish radishes, are available. Peel, slice, and eat, or use them to make a bright slaw. If you’re looking for the little red ones, you’ll have to wait until spring in most places.
Rutabagas are another tasty root vegetable that can be kept through the winter even in colder climes. Their nickname—Swedes—rather gives that away. You want rutabagas that feel heavy for their size. Use them as you would potatoes or turnips.
Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) are the tubers of sunflowers, which explains their nutty, almost sunflower seed-like flavor. Look for firm sunchokes with smooth skins and then roast them, add them to soups, or turn them into a nutty purée.
Sweet potatoes (aka yams) get cured like potatoes for longer storage. They get harvested anywhere between late summer and winter, depending on your location. If they are in season, you may also see sweet potato greens at markets—cook it up just like other cooking greens. There is more than one kind of sweet potato each with its own characteristics, try them all to discover your favorite.
Turnips have a bright, sweet flavor along with their famed hot bite when they’re fresh. As they’re stored, that sharpness will sharpen. By the end of winter, they can take on a “hotness” that is easily tamed with slow and gentle cooking. Mash them, sauté them, marinate them, or pickle them.
Winter squash is, as its name declares, a winter vegetable. The harvest starts in the fall goes well into winter in many areas. And, as with so many items on this list, they also store longer than tomatoes or zucchini, making winter eating sweeter and heartier.
Photo top: snow covered grill, AdobeStock-BlueOrange Studio.