Appetite and hunger collide in the best possible way each autumn, when seasonal cravings kick into high gear. It’s part of our collective DNA to come together around the harvest table and reconnect to our foundations over brimming plates. In delicious anticipation of the flavors to come, we’ve set the table and invited some iconic fall foods to dinner.
And while only the cranberry is a true North American native, other foods, like apples and pumpkins, hold a prominent place in American history. And still others—including pan de muerto—exemplify the melting pot sensibility that gives our national palate such enviable complexity. For each seasonal treat featured here, you’ll also find great spots around the country to sample, savor, and go back for more.
Johnny Appleseed’s vision may have favored hard cider over apple pie, but each fall, bakeries and home cooks pay tribute to the sweeter side of his legacy. Warm apple pie—filling the air with the aroma of gently baked fruit, rich cinnamon, and decadent flaky crust—offers a true taste of autumn. Luckily, you don’t have to stop at just one taste. Savor the season in:
Seattle, Washington: With three cafe locations around the city, Seattle’s Macrina Bakery highlights the best of every season. In fall, that means irresistible sweets like maple-apple pies (as well as mini maple-apple pies) and cinnamon-apple pull-aparts.
Atlanta, Georgia: Atlanta’s Pie Shop makes more than 100 kinds of pie, including savory dinner pies, cream pies, fruit pies, and unusual pies like oatmeal-raisin. But in fall, nothing beats its classic apple pie, made with apples from Georgia and Virginia, enveloped in an all-butter crust. The pie isn’t as sweet as some, which allows the apples to really shine.
It’s no accident that ripe cranberries share their deep-red blush with the most vivid fall foliage. Both are inextricably tied to autumn, and both have been part of the American landscape since long before there was an America to speak of. Around the country, you can find baked goods sweet and savory paying proper tribute to the native cranberry, a true icon of the season. Savor the season in:
Cape Cod, Massachusetts: For the freshest cranberries, you’ve got to go to the source, and for many, that means a trip to southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. The region is home to more than 14,000 acres of cranberry bogs. The Cape Cod Cranberry Collection has a map of farms selling cranberries and offering tours of the bogs.
Ann Arbor, Michigan: Zingerman’s Bakehouse has a following year-round, enticing hungry customers with specialties like farm bread and sour cream coffee cake. But devotees wait all year for late fall’s cranberry-pecan bread, a sourdough bread with New England cranberries and toasted pecans. For something a little sweeter, there’s also cranberry-walnut pie.
In fall, we look to the forest for its firework displays of fall foliage and the understated bounty of its overgrown floors. Most commercially available wild mushrooms come from national forest lands, and there are an increasing number of opportunities around the country to forage in the wild with expert harvesters. Sound too dirty/questionable/chilly? No problem: Around this time of year, restaurant menus abound with wild mushroom dishes. Savor the season in:
Dayton, Oregon: A meal at The Joel Palmer House, about an hour southwest of Portland, is a true point of pilgrimage for wild mushroom lovers. The menu revolves around wild mushrooms and truffles harvested by the staff and owners. Try the “Mushroom Madness Tasting Menu,” with dishes like mushroom soups, mushroom tarts, and even forest-inspired desserts.
Mendocino, California: Mendocino County, about three and a half hours north of San Francisco, is home to 3,000 mushroom varieties, including some that only grow along California’s northern coast. At the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival, which takes place each year in November, there are mushroom dinners, guided foraging adventures, and cooking classes.
Donuts aren’t seasonal, but for many, the craving for them is. A day out picking apples, driving through the countryside, or watching the leaves turn isn’t complete until you have a donut—along with a hot mug of apple cider—in hand. Savor the season in:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Beiler’s Donuts and Salads in the Reading Terminal Market draws long lines and serious devotion from its clientele. Try specialties like maple-bacon and salted-caramel donuts, or opt for an apple fritter.
Amherst, Massachusetts: Pair apples and baked goods for the quintessential taste of fall and what do you get? Cider donuts like those made fresh daily at Atkins Farms. Made with the farm’s own apple cider and rolled in cinnamon and sugar, the donuts have been made according to the same recipe for more than 40 years.
Let’s untangle the words “pumpkin” and “latte” and get back to basics. The mighty pumpkin is the (jack-o’-lanterned) face of fall and one of its signature flavors. Earthy and slightly sweet, it makes a happy home in pies, breads, cakes, and even ice cream (and, yes, coffee drinks too). Savor the season in:
Denver, Colorado: Born in Germany, beloved in Japan, and now at home in Denver, baumkuchen or baum cake is a celebration cake. At Glaze, it’s made in a special oven with rotating spigots. The resulting cake, an unusual marvel of concentric layers and decadent glaze, comes in a variety of flavors, including pumpkin. The Pumpkin Mount Baum Ring is crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and drizzled in a maple-rum glaze.
Dallas, Texas: Emporium Pies has gained national recognition for its take on the classic pumpkin pie. The Drop Dead Gourdgeous pairs a crumbly gingersnap crust with a spiced pumpkin custard to create the sort of pie that could inspire a person to always eat dessert first. Other seasonal pies include bourbon-pecan and deep-dish apple.
Like snowflakes in the winter, no two gingerbread recipes are alike. The bewitching—and profoundly autumnal—blend of molasses, ginger, and spices yields a surprising number of delicious outcomes. From crispy cookies to dense, rich cakes, the gingerbread landscape is as diverse as it is delicious. Savor the season in:
Boston, Massachusetts: Chewy, spicy ginger-molasses cookies at Flour Bakery + Cafe (with locations in Boston and Cambridge) win over sweets seekers looking for a seasonal treat each fall. And while the cake version may be the classic, there’s no denying that a dense, flavorful cookie is a perfect no-utensil, single-napkin take on gingerbread.
New York City, New York: Gramercy Tavern‘s gingerbread has a following that extends far beyond the restaurant’s walls, with an iconic recipe that’s been adored, imitated, and adapted for years. This fall, the Tavern will update its gingerbread by offering a cookie sandwich with lemon-cream cheese buttercream and pomegranate caramel.
Sweet potatoes are the triathletes of the favorite flavors of fall. Immensely adaptable, they’re as good in sweet dishes as they are in savory. They’re also nutritional powerhouses—rich in beta carotene, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory nutrients. And lest that deter you, take heart in knowing how well they pair with decadent accompaniments like butter, maple syrup, and more butter. Savor the season in:
Chicago, Illinois: Sweet potatoes are the undisputed stars of the show at Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Cafe. Everything on the menu is made with sweet potatoes, from savory dishes such as sweet potatoes stuffed with sauteed bell peppers, onions, and meat to an irresistible array of sweets, including the cafe’s signature sweet potato pie and sweet potato cobbler, cake, bread pudding, and ice cream.
Mason City, Iowa: At The Decker House Bed & Breakfast, innkeeper Sally Pressly dazzles guests with just-out-of-the-oven breads, fresh fruits, and homemade breakfast options including sweet potato-pecan waffles with praline sauce. Pressly created the waffles as a way to bring the flavors of her mother’s sweet potato-pecan pie to the breakfast table. The guest favorite was a finalist in the 2014 BedandBreakfast.com Breakfast Tournament.
Pan de Muerto
In Mexican culture, the dead have their day in early November. And in many U.S. cities where the elaborate and colorful celebrations have caught on, the sweet pan de muerto bread has become a favorite fall snack. Haven’t tried it yet? Then you’re just in time to taste the fluffy, sweet, often richly decorated seasonal treat. Savor the season in:
Los Angeles, California: Last fall, LA Weekly named El Gallo Bakery one of the top five places to get pan de muerto. Choose between sweet small rolls or larger skull-shaped loaves. The bakery also sells house-made sugar skulls—another Dia de los Muertos holiday favorite.
Miami, Florida: Orange-blossom-scented pan de muerto sprinkled with sugar is the specialty of the season at La Migaja Mexican Bakery. The owners make both small and large round loaves adorned with shapes representing things such as the bones of the departed or the teardrops of the mourning.
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