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This week, the Dish looks at some delicious fall delights making their way to restaurant and café menus this season. Not always mutually exclusive (think caramel apples and caramel pumpkin pastries), pumpkins, apple and caramel add a lot of flavor (and color) to diners’ plates during early autumn.

Americans have celebrated National Apple Month in October since 1996. There are over 100 apple varieties commercially grown and distributed in the United States, and 15 of those varieties make up more than 90 percent of total apple production in America. Seasonally, America’s biggest fast casual and fast food chains always feature a variety of apple-flavored treats. You’ll find hot and iced apple cider a Dunkin Donuts, a caramel apple bagel at Tim Horton’s and an autumn apple chicken salad at Cosi.

A great option for our hungry apple-eaters in the Chicago area is Blokes and Birds Public House. Here you can taste some deliciously sour and tart Granny Smith apples in their Waldorf Salad, also featuring jicama, toasted walnuts, golden raisins and Pimm’s vinaigrette. Regulars also love their Cheesy Peavey starter plate, featuring Granny Smith apples, baked brie and chevre cheese, and apricot chutney served with puff pastries.

As popular as apples have been in America for centuries, pumpkins have taken center stage as a seasonal, featured ingredient on menu items in recent years. About 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown in the U.S. annually, and pumpkins are native to North America (though they can be grown on any continent in the world excluding Antarctica).

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A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek highlights how from August through November of 2012, the country’s 250 largest chains introduced 105 pumpkin-themed limited-time offers, more than twice as many as the 45 apple items they put on the menu, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. Surely, this trend has continued into 2013, championed by the likes of Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds and Starbucks and their latest pumpkin-inspired menu options.

Even though the majority of pumpkin production resides in Illinois, pumpkins are generally important as a crop to small and diversified farmers in the New England area. If you’re in the area and are craving some authentic, fresh pumpkin right out of the ground, take a trek to York, Maine where you’ll find Clay Hill Farm Restaurant. Clay Hill Farm Restaurant features pumpkin pasta and roasted pumpkin (taken from their personal garden), along with sautéed baby spinach, in their Shrimp and Lobster entrée, which is tossed in a light chardonnay-sage cream sauce. You won’t find a fresher, fall-flavored option.

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October also celebrates National Caramel Month. Few people realize that caramel candies were the first popular confectionery item sold in general stores across the country. Did you know that Milton Hershey, of the famous Pennsylvania-based Hershey Company, began his candy enterprise as the owner of the Lancaster Caramel Company in 1886? Hershey’s chocolate later grew popular as Hershey introduced new flavors to dress his caramels in.

You’ll find caramel featured on a variety of dessert menus this fall. Caramel as serves as a key ingredient in crème brulee, crème caramel, caramel covered popcorn, assorted candies and when it’s drizzled over ice cream. Starbucks features caramel on its current menu with caramel apple spice and salted caramel mocha drinks, and you can also find both caramel and pumpkin flavor in Culver’s Salted Caramel Pumpkin Concrete Mixer. 

For some uniquely decadent caramel taste, try the Bourbon Bread Pudding at Crossroads at House of Blues Restaurant and Bar. Their bourbon bread pudding is cooked with bananas and white chocolate, finished with a bourbon caramel sauce and topped with fresh whipped cream. How delicious!

Which fall flavors do you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments section below.