Back in the early 1800s, many considered the Virginia Beauty a local treasure. And though it was eventually outpaced by more widespread apple varieties (like the ubiquitous Red Delicious), it still holds a vaunted place among apple aficionados. Sink your teeth into the medium-size deep-red fruit, and you’ll understand why. “It’s a firm, fine-grained, and juicy apple with a mildly acidic yet sweet flavor,” says Ron Joyner, who grows antique and heirloom apples on Big Horse Creek Farm in Lansing, North Carolina. These days, you’re most likely to find a Virginia Beauty in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, though the trees can survive in hotter climates as well. Look for the russet starburst shape spilling over the apple’s top (if it doesn’t have it, it’s an impostor, Joyner says). They’re at their best simply sliced for a light dessert but can also be the star of sweet cider, applesauce, or apple butter. And if you want to win an apple pie contest, meet your new secret weapon.
The Farmers’ Market Cheat Sheet
This green-striped heirloom squash—also known as sweet potato squash or Bohemian squash—may look ornamental, but make no mistake, it’s an eater. Found at fresh-produce stands and specialty grocers in the fall, it has a creamy texture and a flavor that is described as, well, delicate, a mix between a sweet potato and a butternut squash. Choose one that’s heavy and firm, and when you get it home, cut it in half, seed it, and roast with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. And unlike most winter squashes, it has an edible rind, so no peeling required.
Above the ground, the sunchoke is a stately yellow bloom, a type of sunflower. But dig it up, and you’ll find a knobby, gnarly root vegetable. Thankfully, one taste of the sweet, nutty flesh will make you forget all about appearances. Sometimes called a Jerusalem artichoke, the sunchoke is at its peak throughout the South in the late fall. It’s perfect for pickling and preserving. Or for a simple but impressive football snack, roast or fry thin slices coated in olive oil, and sprinkle with paprika, salt, and pepper.