Five Michigan Crops to Cook With this Fall

Autumn in Michigan provides amazing produce for many of our seasonal favorite recipes. From ripe apples, pears, pumpkins and many more, it’s easy to support local growers in the Great Lakes state while enjoying some delicious and healthy food. Guest blogger Christina Carson from Awesome Mitten shares five crops to consider cooking with this fall.

With the crisp air of fall making its way back into Michigan, it’s hard not to get excited about the harvest season and all it brings. While some of the summer crops are starting to fade, the fall season offers a cornucopia of amazing local produce throughout the whole state.

A lot of folks don’t know that Michigan has the second most diverse production of fruits and vegetables in the country, beaten only by the ever-prevalent agriculture system of California. This means we have a near endless variety of amazing produce to choose from while supporting our own agricultural economy and local business owners.

Here are five fall Michigan crops that excite me the most. A few are expected favorites of everyone for the fall season, but I’m also including a few lesser-known crops that I encourage you to seek out and try.

1) Apples

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

No article on Michigan’s fall crops would be complete without a mention of apples, of course. Michigan is the third largest producer of apples in the country, with an average of about 23 million bushels every year. This makes apples the largest fruit crop in Michigan. So no matter where you are in Michigan this fall, go ahead and find your way to an apple orchard – pick some apples, drink some cider and appreciate this amazing crop!

While an apple by itself may be a perfect snack, the options for cooking with apples are vast. Classic desserts like the apple pie and apple crisp should not be overlooked, but I challenge you to look past the pies and crisps this season. Put apples in your salads, roast them with carrots or stuff halved winter squash with sausage and apples before roasting for about an hour. You’ll know it’s done when the squash and apples are soft and the sausage is cooked.

2) Parsnips

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

While often overlooked, parsnips might be my favorite fall vegetable. Their sweet white tubers don’t show up until the ground has been thoroughly frosted. The frost helps them convert starch to sugar and create that joyful flavor I can’t get enough of. They may not be a favorite of most, but you’ll find them in abundance at markets and stores throughout the state once the ground freezes.

Parsnips are best slow roasted, to bring out their natural sweetness. I like to chop them into cubes or fries, before tossing with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Roast them up at 375 degrees until soft inside and browning on the outside, about an hour depending how large you’ve chopped them.

Maybe you’ll become as hooked on them as I am.

3) Winter Squash

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

Winter squash and pumpkins are surely one of the telltale signs of fall, and there is so much more to these delights than the pumpkin spice flavor. Slow cooking winter squash  in the oven for an hour or two is a great way to cozy up to the fall weather.

The varieties of squash available in Michigan are hugely diverse, especially if you buy them from a farm that enjoys growing lots of variety. While difficult to find because the seed is expensive, fairy squash is my absolute favorite. The perfectly smooth texture and sweet taste make them great for squash desserts or silky smooth pureed squash soup.

If pumpkins are more your thing, make sure to pick up some pie pumpkins and explore making your very own pumpkin puree this fall. Far tastier than the canned puree, all you have to do is halve your pumpkins and scoop out the seeds. Then set the pumpkins cut side down on a baking sheet. I like to put a little water in the sheet pan to keep them moist. Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour. Once the pumpkin’s meat is very soft, scoop it from the skin and puree!

4) Pears

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

While apples may be the celebrated fall fruit crop, Michigan grows some phenomenal pears as well.

While not  grown on a massive scale, many apple orchards dabble in pears. Two of my personal favorites are the round, apple-looking Asian pear and  the rough, brown-skinned bosc pear. !

Perfectly ripe pears are a great snack on their own, but they also shine served sliced with cheeses. Pears can also serve as a substitute in just about any apple recipe you can think of or, if you’re feeling adventurous, poached. I highly suggest you slice up some pears and make yourself a simple pear crisp. I guarantee you’ll love it.

5) Watermelon Radishes

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

In my mind, these radishes are a bit of magic. They show up in markets when the ground gets cold and almost resemble turnips instead of an actual radish. Smooth white orbs don’t look like all that much while they’re sitting on a farmer’s market table, but once you cut into these radishes, I can promise you’ll be hooked. The centers reveal a stunning bright magenta center, like cutting into a particularly colorful watermelon.

Watermelon radishes have a bit of a bite to them, but nothing too powerful. I find them best suited as a stunning salad topper, or sliced into chip-like slices and served on a veggie platter with hummus or another veggie dip.

What is your favorite Michigan fall recipe?

774908_10100241229705605_1160233728_oAbout the Author: Christina Carson is a northern Michigan girl through and though – addicted to the Lake Michigan coastline, our incredible local food system, and the mitten’s homegrown musicians. I share my passion for beautiful, delicious and joyful food through my blog and photography business – Toot Sweet. Keep an eye out for my monthly Michigan recipes on Awesome Mitten and follow Toot Sweet on Facebook and Instagram.

Exploring the Old Mission Peninsula on M-37

Just north of Traverse City, the Old Mission Peninsula is a narrow finger of land extending into the center of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s 22 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide: a beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages that’s especially lovely in fall.

Highway M-37, known by locals as Center Road, shows you the best of this magical place. It’s perfect for a half-day drive that combines fall color with beautiful views, visits to wineries and fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at charming restaurants.

The first winery you’ll encounter is just past the crest of the first hill, it’s the Old Mission vineyard and tasting room of Black Star Farms, established on the site of the former Underwood farm. At the bottom of the hill, rising up on the left, is the Italian stone villa that houses Mari Vineyards, the peninsula’s newest winery.

For the next few miles the road runs along the shoreline with its ducks, docks, birds and boats, then begins to rise again. On the right you’ll see a former one-room schoolhouse. (The Peninsula once had seven of them, and five are still in use.) It’s the tasting room of Peninsula Cellars. Across the road and up the hill is the relaxed new Bonobo Winery.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

At the summit of the hill, there’s a scenic treat: a lovely overlook with splendid views of both arms of the Bay – a favorite place for watching sunsets, storms and other natural displays. It overlooks the sprawling vineyards of Chateau Grand Traverse, the first winery established on the Peninsula.  As the road descends the hill, continue to enjoy the scenery along with the fruit and vegetable stands that will be increasingly noticeable on both sides of the road. Stop by for some fresh apples, plums, beans, squash and other locally-grown goodies!

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Just ahead is the village of Mapleton, one of the Peninsula’s two small towns, home to the laid-back Peninsula Grill and Bad Dog Deli, as well as a handy grocery store, the Peninsula Market, which has the only gas pump out here.

From Mapleton, the road leads north over a razor-thin bluff known as the Hog’s Back, (with wonderful views of East Bay to the right) and rises even higher to the imposing Chateau Chantal Winery Bed & Breakfast. Over the next hill you’ll find the Old Mission Tavern, a charming eatery that has its own art gallery, the Bella Galleria.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

One last hill takes you down past cherry orchards, vineyards and tall rows of hops with great views of Old Mission Village to the right. Here, as the highway makes a gentle turn to the east, you’ll enter Lighthouse Park, home to the picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870. Although it is no longer in operation, it is open for tours and is the centerpiece of an attractive park with popular beaches, historical exhibits and extensive hiking trails.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

What are your favorite memories of the Old Mission Peninsula? Share with us by commenting below!

Blogger Bio: Mike Norton majored in history at the University of Michigan and spent 25 years as a newspaper writer and columnist in Traverse City. For the past decade, he’s been director of media relations at Traverse City Tourism. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 304 S. Ashley St, Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as and, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo.