Winter isn’t a time well-known for its crops. The cold temperatures, shorter days, and unforgiving weather doesn’t make it well-suited for harvesting a diverse range of vegetables or fruits. But some persistent or hearty plants not only grow during winter but reach their peak season. Some of them may even surprise you! We’ll showcase a few winter fruits and vegetables, tell you how to choose the best quality produce, and highlight a few recipe ideas.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is part of a plant group of called winter squash. The name gives away when these squash are at their best. Other winter squashes include acorn squash, pumpkins, delicate squash, Hubbard squash, and others. Generally, they’re harvested just before they’re done maturing, usually in late September and early October and are allowed to finish maturing before they hit supermarket shelves. With their long shelf lives, this allows butternut squash and other winter squashes to be fresh and delicious all through the winter.

How to Pick Them

When you’re at the store buying a butternut squash, or any winter squash, you should focus on its skin. You shouldn’t see any wrinkling; look for a smooth skin. When you’re feeling the squash, it should feel solid, firm, and a bit heavy. If you’re noticing soft spots, a hollow feeling, or a lightness, the squash is likely less than fresh. The ideal color of the squash depends on the which type you’re getting, but a butternut squash should be a pale orange.

How to Use Them

Not only are butternut squashes at their best in the winter, many of the best ways to cook them fit the season perfectly. When it’s cold out, there are few soups more comforting than butternut squash soup. The same aspects that make it a good base for soup also allow it to make a delicious sauce for pasta. You can even cube and roast the squash for an excellent side dish for your dinner that can be warm, spicy, and sweet depending on how you season it.

Oranges

 Oranges are one of the most iconic fruits and come in many varieties. While oranges can be found in your local grocery store year-round, they are at their best in the winter. The season for oranges can run from November to as late as June! While this means you can enjoy a nice orange at any time of year, give them a try during winter. You won’t regret it.

How to Pick Them

Like most fruits, you can get a good sense of the freshness of the orange by looking at the skin. You’ll want a bright color with vibrant, blemish-free texture. If the skin is covered in dry spots or looks dull or damaged, look elsewhere. Pick up the orange and give it a feel. You’ll want the orange to feel firm with thin skin, but not rock solid. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too soft, which may mean the fruit is dry and pithy. There should be some weight to the orange, meaning there is lots of delicious juice in there. If you lightly scratch the outside of the skin, you should get a strong scent.

How to Use Them

One of the great things about oranges is that they don’t need much to be delicious. Just cut them open and eat. Of course, juicing oranges is an option, too. But you can use them in recipes to give your dishes a vibrant, citrusy finish. Our own cookbook (available for free here) has recipe for Sicilian oranges that is equal parts tart and sweet with a punch of salty. They also work nicely with a lot of desserts, like these orange bars. You can even use oranges for a glaze on savory dishes.

Rutabagas

This root vegetable isn’t one that everyone will be familiar with and may be harder to find depending on your options at your local grocery store. But, if you’re able to get your hands on them, it’s certainly worth trying. Rutabagas grow well in cooler weather and are typically harvested between October and November. They also have a long shelf life and can be easily frozen, meaning they’re at peak freshness throughout the winter.

How to Pick Them

When shopping for rutabaga, you may notice that they have a thin wax coating to help elongate the freshness. This isn’t a big deal, just peel away the coating before cooking. If you’re able to find rutabaga in the store without a wax coating, try those first. This may help you observe how fresh the rutabaga is for yourself before buying. The key signs of freshness are a firm, smooth skin without noticeable brown spots or soft spots. They should be purplish or white to light yellow. If the leaves are still attached and look wilted, you’ll want to avoid that rutabaga.

How to Use Them

Rutabagas are an interesting vegetable, because you may not be entirely familiar with them, but you know other vegetables they’re very similar to. They are very similar to white potatoes, only a little sweeter, and are comparable to parsnips. This makes them well-suited to mash, roast, or make into french fries. Since rutabaga are comparatively low in calories and high in nutrients, they can be a nice alternative to potatoes.

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Winter is often a time we associate with hearty soups or festive holiday feasts. We don’t think of fresh fruit or vegetables as often, but there are some great offerings that are in season during the winter that you shouldn’t miss out on! If you haven’t had any of these picks, you should try them this winter.

Further Reading

Medicareful Living — Seasonal Picks: 3 Foods You Should Try This Spring
Medicareful Living — Seasonal Picks: 3 Foods You Should Try This Fall
Medicareful Living — Seasonal Picks: 3 MORE Foods You Should Try This Fall