By Cheryl Rade | Published January 2019

For many folks lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, autumn is the most magnificent season. The days cool down and shorten, leaves burst into a brilliant display of bright colors, and, of course, the fall harvest offers up an extraordinary abundance of fresh and healthy produce.

Pumpkins, squash, apples, zucchini, you name it—the options are practically limitless. And here in the Willamette Valley, where gardening can occur almost all year, there is no shortage of farmers markets and local farms, as well as gardening enthusiasts who revel in their bounty’s splendor.

So, what makes our autumn harvest so amazing?

Jeff Choate, a horticulturist with Lane County’s Oregon State University Extension Service in Eugene, says with our area’s moderate climate, it’s possible to grow almost anything at any time. Also, the fruits and vegetables associated with the autumn harvest are incredible. Although squash and pumpkins often come to mind the quickest, he says, there are so many other types of produce available such as pears, potatoes, and cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cauliflower.

“Fall is the time when the harvest is wrapping up its season,” Choate says, “but it’s not an end, but rather a transition period.”

Choate’s own 2,000-square-foot garden at his home in Marcola produces massive amounts of fruits and vegetables annually. “I grow so much that I end up giving a lot away,” he says, “but I do it because it’s rewarding.”

Alicia Ghio shares Choate’s gusto for gardening. She and her husband, Eric, have long been reaping the benefits of their own autumn harvest in rural Lane County, growing everything from potatoes to beans to various herbs. “I have a small garden, but even in a small space, I can grow a whole year’s worth of food for my family,” she says. “I have so many potatoes that I never have to buy them, and every year, I have tons of zucchini.”

Ghio says the best parts of the fall harvest are its versatility and lengthy growing season. “We always make as many meals out of the garden as possible,” she says. “I can go out there every night and pick out our entire dinner.”

Any harvest surplus, she explains, can easily be preserved by freezing, canning, drying, or simply storing in the basement where the temperature is cool and dry. The entire gardening process “is all so rewarding,” she adds. “You get to see your work through the summer and enjoy the advantages of growing everything yourself.”

Thistledown Farm, which borders the Willamette River near Junction City, is a stunning agricultural jewel that has been around for decades. In fact, it’s even a local landmark. Growing approximately 75 crops on more than 600 acres, the farm is a family-owned business with Pam and Randy Henderson at the helm.

Farm matriarch Pam Henderson says that all their farm crops are hand-harvested, except for the hazelnuts. “We’re always busy here during the season,” she says, noting that Thistledown’s season runs from April 15 through November 2.

The farm’s most popular autumn harvest sellers are peaches, tomatoes, and apples, as well as squash, pumpkins, and peppers. “I fire-roast my peppers and freeze them so I can use them in the winter,” Henderson says, adding that her daughter-in-law Rachel is a terrific cook who makes great salsa and marinara sauce, both of which can be frozen and saved for later.

For Joshua Gates and Zachary Carroll of Eugene, this year marks their first attempt at gardening and harvesting, and they’re going all out. They currently maintain three organic gardens at various locations throughout the city, all featuring an extensive array of fall produce, as well as numerous herbs.

Gates says they’re “growing everything,” including eggplant, watermelons, peppers, and beans. “Zach and I enjoy cooking together,” he explains, adding that they have a multitude of ideas on how to prepare and store their fall harvest.

“We can smoke the peppers (jalapeño and poblano) over mesquite wood and then just store them in a Mason jar,” he says. “And eggplant, you just roast it in the oven with a little salt. This will be so nice, to grow our own organic produce.”

Carroll agrees wholeheartedly and says one of his gardening goals is to see how much produce they can get from the fall harvest. He says they have many plans for their bounty, such as carving pumpkins for Halloween, making lots of pumpkin pies, canning tomato sauce, and drying herbs.

“It would be really nice to see how we can extend our food,” he concludes, “to know that we grew this and that it came from the ground right here.”

Here are a few recipes for preparing your autumn harvest produce:

Sautéed zucchini

Recipe courtesy of OSU Extension Service (Food Hero)

Ingredients

2 medium zucchini

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic minced or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano (optional)

Directions

Wash zucchini and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds or sticks. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and zucchini, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is soft, about five to seven minutes.

Parmesan roasted potatoes

Recipe courtesy of OSU Extension Office (Food Hero)

Ingredients

3 cups potatoes cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons oil

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss potatoes with oil, salt, and pepper. Place potatoes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast 25 minutes, sprinkle with cheese, and roast an additional five to 10 minutes.

Harvest salsa

Recipe courtesy of Thistledown Farm

Ingredients

12 cups diced tomatoes, drained

6 large onions, chopped

1/2 cup jalapeño peppers, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

2 cups Anaheim peppers, chopped

3 tablespoons salt

1 cup apple cider vinegar

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil, simmering for 30 minutes. The salsa may be frozen or canned.

Zucchini fudge cake with chocolate frosting

Recipe courtesy of Alicia Ghio

Ingredients

4 large eggs

2 1/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup butter, softened

3 cups flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

3 cups shredded zucchini

1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

Beat eggs until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until thick and lemon-colored, then beat in vanilla and butter. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Combine dry ingredients with egg mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix until just combined, then fold in zucchini and walnuts.

Grease and flour four 9-inch round pans. Divide batter evenly and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops spring back when gently pressed. Let cool and then spread the layers with chocolate frosting.

For the chocolate frosting

Ingredients

1 cup soft butter

2 pounds confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/3-1/2 cup milk

Directions

Combine ingredients and beat well. Cake may be decorated with whipped cream and fruit or chocolate chips, if desired.