In years past, many farmers’ market regulars couldn’t wait for October’s bounty. By then, they had their fill of roasted eggplant, grilled zucchini, and caprice salad—the foods that transform summer’s heat into a satiable experience. When a chill hit the air, seasonal cooks would normally turn to hearty greens and silky winter squashes. But a change in the earth’s climate has altered kitchen plans, forcing many cooks to find new uses for the abundance of summer crops creeping into autumn.
“Go global warming!” shouts Jaci Arnold, the self-described “biatch” of Richfield Farm in Manchester, Md., while selling produce at the Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market. Somehow, heirloom tomatoes have found their way to 17th and Lamont Streets, NW in mid-October. “We should have had a frost by this time,” Arnold says. “Everyone complains about global warming, but they’re still happy to have a tomato in October.” Although she doesn’t cook extravagantly, Arnold has heard some pretty strange ways people use up the never-ending warm-weather vegetables, most notably a yellow squash ice cream. In fact, funky desserts seem to be the standard among this particular group of farmers and sellers in Mount Pleasant.
Zachary Lester, owner of Tree And Leaf farm in Loudon County, Va., transforms his quick-to-wilt purple basil, Thai basil, and Italian basil into an herbaceous ice cream. Robert Audia, of Carroll County’s Audia’s Farms, says his wife upped the ante at this year’s annual squash festival by presenting a squash cheesecake. Tia Sumler of Truck Patch Farms in New Windsor, Md., meanwhile, suggests a labor-intensive tomato granita: She blends a few tomatoes, sugar, and cherry bomb hot peppers until smooth; places it in the freezer; and every 30 minutes (for a few hours) scrapes and stirs the mixture to create an icy, crystallized treat. Sumler acknowledges it’s a pain in the ass, but “If you’re home anyway, it’s well worth it,” she says.
Non-dessert-related tricks for using as many summer veggies as possible include Sumler’s incestuous stuffed pepper. Instead of loading the pepper with meat or grains, Sumler fills the void with other vegetables. First, she cores and deseeds a bell pepper. Then, using any other vegetable she has around—such as squash, eggplant (cube and salt it to release moisture before adding to the pan), tomato, yellow or green beans, and arugula—she sautés until soft. The final step is to load the mixture in the pepper and bake for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees. “This is great to do the night before going to the market,” Sumler says. “It’s a good fridge clearer.”
For those who prefer more traditional uses of summer vegetables, there are still plenty of opportunities for experimentation. Mount Pleasant resident Jane Singleton Paul bought $20 worth of tomatoes, fearing it’d be her last lycopene fill of the year. She often creates a salad of sliced tomato, mozzarella, and basil—but mixes it up by using ume plum vinegar instead of balsamic vinegar, in addition to a good olive oil. And if you happen to not use all of the tomato, Paul insists, “never refrigerate!” Instead, place the tomato cut side down on a plate and it will stay good for another day.
A version of this article appeared in the Onion/AV Club. On stands in DC until Wednesday.