It’s fall—the time of year when pumpkin-flavored everything is littering the menus of every restaurant under the sun. That’s fine (as long as the pumpkin flavor is coming from actual pumpkins, and not some calorie-laden sugar syrup), but laser-focusing on one flavor means you’re ignoring some of the best-tasting—and craziest looking—vegetables of the season. Get your mind out of the pumpkin patch (almost) and look for these eight vegetables that you might not be able to find any other time of year.
Eat them: The healthiest apple in the world, according to British scientists, is an organic ‘Pendragon’ apple, an 800-year-old heirloom variety that originated in England. Why? It has the highest levels of eight different antioxidants and compounds known to control blood sugar and lower heart-disease risk, according to a paper the scientists presented to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. They also found that in some cases, organic apples had several thousand times more of these compounds than nonorganic apples.
Find them: While you might not find ‘Pendragon’ apples anywhere close to you—the scientists had to source them from a single small orchard in England—that’s okay. The research found that organic ‘Golden Delicious’ apples were next in line, as far as nutrient content goes. As long as they’re organic, eat lots of apples, now when they’re in season. An apple a day—any kind—keeps heart attacks away, according to a new study from Ohio State University.
Read More: Organic Heirloom Apples
Photo: (cc) Amy Loves Yah/Flickr
Eat them: These cousins of the standard English walnuts you’re accustomed to eating may keep you happy as long summer days wane. They contain some of the highest levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that keeps your mood and stress levels in check, of any food.
Find them: Black walnuts can be found in the nut aisles of most gourmet grocery stores, but why pay the high price of $12 to $13 per pound? This time of year, black walnuts are practically raining off walnut trees, which grow across the U.S. Look for trees that bear green, baseball-sized fruits and pick up any that have fallen on the ground. Crack open the green exterior (but wear gloves, because the brown flesh on the inside will stain your fingers), and you’ll see the black walnut hiding inside.
Eat them: Want a really freaky-looking pumpkin to decorate your front stoop for Halloween that tastes amazing after the holiday is over? Hunt down a peanut pumpkin—or Galeux d'Eysine, as it’s officially known. This wart-covered French heirloom pumpkin develops more peanut-shell-shaped warts as it matures, making it great for decoration. But it'll beat the canned stuff, hands down, in your holiday pies.
Find them: As with most rare heirloom-variety vegetables, you’ll have to look hard for a peanut pumpkin. Start at your farmers’ market, and if you don’t see any, find a local pumpkin patch that sells heirloom varieties.
Extra: Winter Squash 101
Eat them: These reddish oddities aren’t a variety of mushroom, per se, but mushrooms that have been covered with a parasitic fungus. The fungus is red and makes the original mushroom, which turns white on the inside, unidentifiable (which is why it’s best to buy these—foraging for them in the wild may lead you to eat a poisonous mushroom). Mushrooms of all varieties harbor compounds linked to lower rates of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and heart disease; lobster mushrooms, with their mildly seafoodlike flavor, just look way more interesting on your dinner plate!
Find them: These will start turning up at farmers’ markets in September and October, and you may also find them at larger grocery-store chains.
Learn More: Grow Your Own Gourmet Mushrooms
Photo: (cc) Jason Hollinger/Flickr
Eat them: Quinces used to be common fruits in the United States, until they got edged out by their more popular cousins, apples and pears. But these fuzzy-skinned fruits shouldn't be overlooked, if only because of their rich cold-and-flu-fighting vitamin C content. One quince provides 23 percent of your daily requirement, while apples and pears provide only 10 percent. They taste a bit tropical, sort of a combination of pineapple, guava, apple, and pear—giving you a taste of the tropics without adding polluting food miles to your fruit plate.
Find them: Look for U.S.-grown quinces between now and December in gourmet grocery stores as well as Latino, Asian, and Middle Eastern markets. And talk to the fruit farmers when visiting the farmers’ market. Their quinces may not be on display, but you may be able to place an order for them.
Photo: (cc) Dave F./Flickr
Eat it: Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, with nearly 100 percent of your daily requirements for vitamins K and A, and any variety is a healthy addition to your dinner. But Tuscan kale is much more versatile: Steam it, add it to soups, or eat it raw, and it will hold its shape and flavor. It makes a great stand-in for lettuce in salads.
Find it: Tuscan kale is pretty common in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. You might see it sold under one of its other nicknames, dinosaur or lacinto kale.
Learn More: Kale Growing Guide
Photo: (cc) Tuscanycious/Flickr
Eat them: There are bananas, and then there are “Hoosier bananas,” more properly known as pawpaws. Little known but superhealthy, the pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to North America. They have 20 to 70 times as much iron, 10 times as much calcium, and 4 to 20 times as much magnesium as bananas, apples, and oranges, and research from Ohio State has found that they have antioxidant levels that rival cranberries and cherries. Health bonus: Being a native tree, pawpaws are resistant to most pests and diseases, making them very easy to grow organically, without the insecticides or fungicides used in most fruit orchards.
Find them: Pawpaws are harvested this time of year in just about every U.S. state, though they grow best in the Midwest. Look for them at a farmers’ market, or go foraging. Pawpaw trees grow in shady areas alongside riverbanks and streams.
Eat them: Meat from wild game has fewer calories, less saturated and total fat, and even lower levels of cholesterol than meat from factory-farmed animals, according to research published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Not only that, wild animals are free of hormones and antibiotics, and their diets consist of wild greens, acorns, and plants, not genetically modified feed. Wild boar, in particular, should be eaten…often! They’re invasive nuisances to farmers across the United States, destroying farm fields and terrorizing animals. So eating boar meat actually leads to a net environmental benefit.
Find them: Start at a local farmers’ market or a butcher who processes hunters’ wild catch. If you can’t find any locally, Dartagnan.com sells cuts of wild boar caught in Texas, where the state is working hard to contain a burgeoning population.
Keep Reading: 7 Delicious Invasive Species
Photo: (cc) Mike Baird/Flickr