Monday, September 12, 2011

Eating My Way Through Autumn

On Labor Day, my sister and I went apple picking.  It was a perfect way to kick off the fall, but since I had just returned from a summer vacation, the idea of autumn starting so soon made me panic a little.  September?  When did that happen?  However, as we picked Macintosh and Gala apples (as well as peaches, strawberries, pears and a few tomatoes - this orchard was massive!) I started remembering why I often consider the fall my favorite season: the beautiful oranges, reds and yellows of the changing leaves; new books and new classes (though not for me this year); the crisp air that seems like a relief after a humid summer.  As I imagined myself wearing a puffy vest and crunching leaves under my feet, I also realized that much of my love for the fall has to do with food. 

This photo goes along with an article in the UK's Telegraph about "leaf peeping" in New England.
That makes looking at foliage sound like an unusual, shameful act 
instead of something that you'd do as you go antiquing in Western Mass.

It is possible to get apple cider, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin-flavored lattes at other times of the year, but they just don't taste as good.  On a crisp October day, after you've trekked through piles of golden leaves on the sidewalk, a warm mug of cider is the best drink for welcoming yourself home.  When I lived in a house with a nice front porch, I would sometimes take cider and a book outside to enjoy sunny afternoons while it was still warm enough to do so.  Mulled cider is even better.  It is also easy to find caramel apple cider, and it always tastes perfect when the weather has gotten just cool enough that you want to wear long sleeves.

 Now all I want is a thick novel and a cable-knit sweater.

If cider isn't your thing, think about the autumn holidays: Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Halloween has fewer related foods - for some reason I always think of popcorn balls, caramel apples, and elaborately decorated sugar cookies - but it always means candy.  If you have decided that you are too old to trick-or-treat - frankly after fifth grade you're pushing it and once you're in high school you should just go to costume parties - you can either "buy your favorite candy for trick-or-treaters" (a.k.a. for that one kid down the street) and end up with 97% of the bag for yourself or you can wait until November first when all the candy is on sale.  Believe me, I will be stocking up on Reese's cups and Kit Kats that morning.

One of these looks threatening...

On a slightly less cavity-inducing note, Thanksgiving is the most food-driven holiday on my yearly calendar.  Though two years ago my brother, sister and I scandalized my mother by announcing that none of us really like turkey all that much, I look forward to that Thursday every year with a grumbling stomach.  In addition to being an exciting time to see my family and create a meal together, Thanksgiving is an excuse to eat some delicious dishes that I only think to make once a year.  Sweet potatoes with marshmallows is my favorite Thanksgiving-only dish, but there's also stuffing, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes with gravy.  Each meal also ends with a pumpkin pie, my all-time favorite.  

 Last year, my sister and I made Thanksgiving dinner on our own!
We still ended up with enough leftovers for a family of five.

In the short term, I have spent a lot of time figuring out what to make with apples.  Since apple picking is so much fun that it is easy to get carried away, my sister and I ended up taking home more than a dozen apples each.  In order to avoid doing more important things on my to-do list, I have spent the week making various apple dishes.  I made apple sauce from scratch for the first time since a kindergarten class project.  I also made apple crisp with a crumbly oatmeal topping and have made two loaves of apple bread.  While I'm glad I've used up my apples in some tasty ways, I was looking forward to trying apple peanut butter cookies, too.  I have also learned that baking is an amazing procrastination tool.  Not only do you keep from doing the tasks you need to do, but you end up with something to show for your efforts!

 Don't worry, I checked my apples for bruises, worms, and evil spells.

What are your favorite autumn foods?  What makes you like (or dislike) the fall?

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