Its that time of year. One can begin to smell fall in the air. The days are dry and temperate, the evenings cool and crisp.
Here in the upper mid-west, we are ‘blessed’ with very long and very cold winters. I have many MANY opportunities to make all the comfort foods I love; soups, stews, braises. Those long winter months are ideal to bake, as my oven does double duty in my house, baking and heating! I love chaos of the holidays. The constant in and out of friends and family. Volunteer activities, school events, fundraising events, holiday meals and entertaining, all having that kernel of food at the core. Then comes the welcome post-holiday downtime, and the pause before the next season arrives.
Spring. Its a late arrival this far north and feels all too brief. One day there is snow, the next we start to hear the tornado sirens letting us know spring is here. This is a time of pining for me. The produce is lackluster. I’m running out of ideas for new ‘twists’ on soup, and my friends in other parts of the country are already starting to shop their farmers markets with early peas, baby lettuces, early strawberries. This is my time of envy and longing to live somewhere else. Anywhere else.
After what is only a few months but feels like years, Summer comes.
I am always initially delighted with the sun and increase in temperature, but this is the midwest, and it is followed immediately with humidity and evenings that never cool down. This is my time of canning the bounty of the garden and u-pick fields. I’ve discovered that hot flashes are all but un-noticable when standing in your kitchen sweating above a water bath canner. When I cant take the heat inside (or outside for that matter) another moment, I run outside and jump in the pool to cool off. On the up side, its peach season. I have a local grocery that gets in the best peaches and I confess, I gorge. Many will bake and cook with them, but not me. I long for them all the other seasons, so when they finally come in ripe, sweet, juicy and in total perfection, I relish the simplistic purity. Summer is pool parties, BBQ’s, toiling in the garden with sweat dripping off my nose, early morning walks with my dog, trips to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Summer is altogether too short here.
I adore Fall. We still have access to late summer produce here, mostly because the season starts so late. Tomatoes are in their full glory. The crisp evenings bring juicy sweet apples. Fall is the time for bonfires, steaming mugs of mexican hot chocolate, apple cider, s’mores, plump plums, autumn leaves, the smell of baking pies, and the quiet of my home as my children head back to school.
Fall is the calm before the storm. The bustle of summer is wrapped up with my oldest back at college, my youngest back in the high schoole routine, and I have a brief respite before the upcoming back to back holidays.
Part of my seasonal rituals for fall is a trip to the apple farm. While other parts of the country have the blessings of moderate weather, none can match the upper midwest’s perfect climate and soil for apples. Every year I look forward to that first trip to the farm. I pick Honeycrisp for eating out of hand, Haralson for baking pies, Paula Red for the beautiful pink it tints my applesauce, and always a few Firesides because they keep a long time.
Then I head home trying to decide what to bake first. Will it be a pie, a crisp, or baked apples? Maybe caramelized apples for breakfast, or maybe I drag out that canner again and put up applesauce or apple butter.
No matter what I decide, it will be good, because its Fall.