The first hint was dropped a few nights ago when I noticed something missing as I tucked myself into bed. The crickets that had been serenading me to sleep through my wide-open windows these past few months of summer evenings were distinctly absent, leaving it silent in that special rural way that is as close to the actual definition of silent as the living world can be. The second clue came soon after when I awoke the next morning with a nose nipped by a cold night’s air. The third when I found even a sweater vest and long-sleeved shirt left me feeling a bit chilly at work. We knew it was coming around the bend, and the proper preparations were starting to work their way into our plans. Despite this, Fall’s boisterous arrival seemed sudden and assertive, though no less welcome as it always is with me and my family.
There is something about the transition into autumn air that makes me feel the most myself, and for some reason I feel the same self-assured spirit inhabit the New Englanders that surround me. Stereotypical though it may be, the region comes alive in the fall. And those of us who call ourselves New Englanders, either by birth or adoption, never fail to celebrate the fleeting beauty that it brings to the fullest extent. But while walks through the woods watching the leaves turn from cool to warm hues as the temperature performs the reverse, and tromping through the pumpkin patch to find the ideal gourd for making a mess out of the kitchen are essential activities in this celebration, it is, of course, the change in culinary attitude that helps me settle into my home season most. A reluctance to turning on a hot oven transforms into enjoying its heat filling the house as we play the long game of “When will we finally have to turn on the heater?”. Cravings for light, bright salads morph into roasting root veggies and sautéing their tops in batches for week-day lunch prep. The daily breakfast of yogurt, berries, and granola are phased out for a steaming bowl of oatmeal speckled with cinnamon.
One of the best seasonal activities that also provides a kick start for those in the kitchen is, of course, apple picking. So with the perfect fall day at our doorstep, my family and I donned our flannels and drove to the local Brookdale Farms to gather more apples than our fruit bowl can handle. Luckily, as it was outside with many rows of trees ripe for the picking, there was no problem for the many families with similar celebrations of the season happening to keep our safe, six-foot and masked distance. And because of this there was almost a sense of normalcy. The white steeple church rose up from the trees, its bell peeling on the hour, as children bit into apples and fell in love with the beauty of the fresh, unadulterated fruit in all its unique and subtle varieties (that probably should have been washed first, but that’s beside the point). We told ourselves we had picked enough of one kind, then promptly picked a few more that were just too red, too perfectly spherical to be left alone. These were divided into two bags, one for baking and one for eating. As each one filled we brain stormed more uses to work our way through them, to highlight the best of what they have to give. Baked with pork chops, stuffed in turnovers, dipped with peanut butter, cooked down to apple sauce or apple butter. With the number of apples we picked, all are on the table in the near future. But I could not help but begin with pie. It would not only be the perfect emblem of the perfect fall day, but a pleasant follow up to the chicken and waffles I had planned for that night’s dinner in honor of my previous posts’ Sweet Chick reminiscing.
After capping off our harvest with a visit to the farm store grabbing some local milk for marinating the chicken, produce for the week, and apple cider doughnuts (because of course), we arrived back home with our bounty, and I began my culinary marathon. Pie crust was mixed and chilled, apples were peeled, cored, and sliced via mandolin, chicken marinated, sourdough waffles made all for that night. In addition, I began a journey of focaccia in preparation for the next day, when a final appreciation of summer veggies would be had with a bruschetta and port dinner. I also threw together a bourbon salted caramel destined to be mixed into a batch of brownies for a family friend, that broke yet again in my continuing frustrating caramel chronicles, but was tasty and useful nonetheless. In short, I amplified the joy of the day the best way I knew how: not leaving the kitchen all afternoon.
I can attest that plate of crispy fried chicken atop a waffle funky with yeast drowned in maple syrup, followed by pastry bursting with prideful lamination hugging apples that earlier that day were itching to be let go by a tree is a path towards an idyllic contentment of a kind only found in the peaceful coziness of fall here in New Hampshire. And at a time when comfort is often elusive, it is a relief to have these dependable sources of it in such forms known intimately to us from years of experience.
If you are so lucky to be able, get yourself to an orchard and pick something to eat later that day (or week, or with some smart cooking that month). If not, find comfort how you can in your own local way. Either way, I’m sure your local farm could help you out in an act of mutual appreciation.