Ginger Johnson
The fall harvest yields myriad varieties of squash suitable for creating delicious entrees. (Ginger Johnson)

A mix of savory and sweet stuffing ingredients creates robust flavor for any stuffed squash.

Ever wonder why people call it "fall" more often than autumn? I'd posit it's because there are habits we fall back into as the weather cools and the days grow shorter ... or maybe it's the gentle falling of the colorful leaves.

Regardless of the season name, immersing yourself in the deliciousness of the fall harvest is easy to do. Let's fall in together with the season's food and beverage partners: Hearty squash patiently awaiting its turn to be made into something wonderful, robust beers at your fingertips, and wines, mead and cider ready to splash their way into your kitchen.

So what's a flavor lover to do? Cook, I say! Cook, pair with a flavorful beverage and enjoy the season's offerings.

Baking stuffed squash makes me exceptionally happy this time of year. A perennial favorite at my table is acorn squash, cut in half, seeds removed (reserved to be baked later), and stuffed with myriad ingredients. The hardest part is deciding what to include: a full-on omnivore's delicious dilemma!

A few core ingredients I keep on hand include nuts (walnuts and almonds), cranberries (fresh or frozen), brown sugar or molasses, and butter. On the finishing side, use a touch of smoked salts and fresh ground pepper to brighten up the flavor all around.

If you're an animal protein lover, savory meats in the form of spiced ground pork, turkey and lamb all provide unique flavor contributions. The key is matching complementary flavors so they'll bake and meld well together. With pork sausage I add sage, walnuts and cranberries, tossed with dark brown sugar and a splash of a Stout beer or crisp (hard) cider.

If I'm in a veggie frame of mind, I roast the squash full of cranberries, raspberries, shaved carrots, and savory onions sprinkled with a lush red wine such as port. I once hosted a dinner party for 10, and one guest was a gluten-intolerant vegan. It's easy to make everyone happy within necessary parameters, especially during the fall with so much in the garden cornucopia.

Another direction for roasting stuffed fall bounty is using that overly prolific beast: zucchini. Halve the vegetable lengthwise and hollow out larger zucchini, then toss together a stuffing of apples, chopped spinach, and brown sugar or maple syrup. Stir in a bit of port and drizzle olive oil in a zigzag across the top. Yum!

For your shopping list, here are some of my go-to stuffed squash ingredients:

1. Acorn and spaghetti squash. Zucchini and small, sweet pumpkins work well too.

2. Walnuts and almonds

3. Brown sugar, molasses and/or maple syrup, and unsalted butter

4. Pork sausage, ground turkey, pheasant, or even venison with the right combo

5. Olive oil, kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper

Cooking your meats beforehand, if they are raw, is a wise choice. The cooked meat will still mingle flavors with the other ingredients, which don't need precooking to be used in the stuffing.

On the seasonings side, using kosher or sea salt will add a lot more flavor for less and be lighter on the sodium. Freshly ground black pepper really sings, and a touch of olive oil adds heart-healthy moisture and very subtle flavor. Flavored olive oils are really fun to experiment with as well.

When you are ready to bake your masterpiece, cooking times will vary depending on thickness of the squash, the type of stuffing ingredients, elevation, etc. In general, I set my oven to 350 degrees, and if the squash goes in while the oven is still preheating, I leave it in for at least 45-60 minutes, until tender when poked with a fork. The flavors get better the longer it bakes (think caramelization) -- just watch to make sure you don't overdo it.

To complement your squash baking endeavors, revel in the enormous variety of fresh beer brewed to partner with your plates. Sample some delicious Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers. Look for and ask for malt-forward beer choices for flavor matches. I call them "crowd pleasers," because so many folks enjoy malt-forward beers for their smooth, moderate flavors. Taste them beforehand, cook with them and invite your friends to join you. Ciders are a lovely choice with baked stuffed squash, as are luscious meads on the market. Prairie Rose Meadery in Fargo is one of North Dakota's award-winning choices. These truly full-bodied and varietal beverages are perfect to serve as well as include in your dish.

Oh -- and remember the seeds you removed? Save them, bake them, and snack on them with a big squashy smile. They're loaded with vitamins and minerals -- check out for full roasting instructions.

When it comes to delicious fall cooking, everything is possible. Enjoy the abundance of healthy and heavenly produce. We should all Be so lucky.

Ginger Johnson can often be found grocery shopping, prepping and cooking wherever she may be. As a professional entertainer, speaker and business owner, she loves to meet new people in the various pursuits of life. Read more via and