Kate: Despite the glorious weather we’ve been having, I’ve gotten out the heavy winter quilts and started
wondering where I put my sweaters last spring. Fall is my favorite season. I always feel energized as I hit my writing desk. But I also get nostalgic for the pleasures of fall past, the things that remind me to get out of the chair and go outside. When I was growing up in Union, there were a lot of old cellar holes marking where houses once stood, and nearly all of those places had old apple trees. Because my parents firmly believed that you couldn’t make decent applesauce or a pie without at least five different kinds of apples, and because in the fall, the canner and the pressure cooker were always on the stove, one Saturday every fall the five of us would pile into the truck (this was before kids couldn’t ride in the back!) and go apple stealing.
Once my sister found an old iron bed in an abandoned barn. Where the curlicues of the twisted rods joined, it had devil’s faces. It was a truly remarkable piece of furniture, though I could never imagine anyone wanting to sleep in such a thing. We threw it in the truck and brought it home, and a few years later, she gave it to this cool musician she met. I’ve always wondered where it ended up.
(And I just made an incredible lemon walnut apple cake for an event with my friend Lea Wait, and if you ask nicely…I’ll be happy to share the recipe.)
Kaitlyn: I’m fond of autumn, too, although I always wish it would stay light out a little later. We have lots of trees here that will be changing color soon (more pictures to follow in a future blog), although the trees on the Christmas tree farm stay the same green all year long.
But what comes to mind first for me about the fall is food.
Apples and potatoes are both best at this time of year, especially in contrast to what’s available in stores during the late summer. I’m an apple-a-day person, and by August I’m reduced to buying fruit imported from Chile! That’s just sad when we live in an apple-producing state.
Another “food” I associate with this time of year is Halloween candy. Suddenly there are all these big bags of mini-size goodies on grocery store shelves. Now, I don’t have kids or grandkids, and it’s rare that any trick-or-treaters come this far out in the country, so I really have no excuse to buy jumbo supplies of candy, but that doesn’t stop me. What can I say? It’s a weakness. Probably brought on by my mother’s disapproval of my eating too much chocolate when I was growing up. Now, I’m not saying that’s not a good thing, but it did leave me with a weakness for homemade fudge that survives to this day. My father and I used to make a batch every once in awhile (probably when my mother wasn’t around!). We used a box mix packaged in a silver-colored box. I don’t think they make it anymore, but I sure have fond memories of the stuff. The closest I’ve found appears in stores closer to Thanksgiving.
I can hardly wait!
Barb: For us seasonal Mainers, fall is a little sad. When my mother-in-law was teaching, Columbus Day always marked the end of the season at the inn. After that there were a couple of beautiful weekends when family could hang out at the house without interfering with her income. I remember a trip to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath with our kids and close friends. For some reason, in those days before digital cameras, we took a hundred or so pictures and I often run across one of them and remember the day so fondly.
But then comes the closing up. Bringing the big rockers in off the porch. Emptying the refrigerator and propping the door open. It marks the passage of time so definitively. The kids are a year older. We’re a year older. Time marches on. I get a little misty when we pull out of the driveway.
Sarah: For me, autumn is the time when the freezer is full of the vegetables we grew all summer and the butler’s pantry holds potatoes enough for mashed, fried, baked, pancaked, and our favorite, “potatoes with little green leaves” (sauteed with the last of the green peppers, a few slices of Walla Walla, and plenty of fresh parsley). The concord grapes (“boughten” ones, usually, now that the vines behind the Senior Center have mostly been landscaped oiut of existence) have been cooked into grape jam and spiced grape. The beets and carrots are still in the ground, being steadily thinned, and the spaghetti squash is still out there, too, ripening as fast as it can in a race to see who gets it, us or the first hard freeze. There would be tomatoes in brown paper bags in the butler’s pantry, ripening for eating and for sauce to eat on spaghetti over the winter, but this year Irene blew a plague onto the tomato vines and presto, instant compost. And of course, pies: apple, mostly, with thin slices of cheddar cheese tucked in among the apple slices and a few tablespoons of maple syrup poured over the fruit before the top crust goes on, but pumpkins are coming, and mince (which some don’t like, so more for me).
Every year I say I’ll do rose hip jam, and don’t (maybe this year?) and that I’ll make fruitcake (in coffee tins, to marinate in brandy for months) and haven’t. But hope springs infernal.
If that sounds like a lot of food, it is, but we need the fuel for…dahlias. Digging them, that is: tall orange ones, huge yellow pom-poms, firepot red/purple, massive pinks, and bunches of small red, white, and yellow ones. Each bulb must be dug up, brushed off, dried in the sun for a day or so (if there is sun), then wrapped in newspaper and stored on the third floor where it hibernates until spring.
So: food and flowers. Not nearly enough compensation for darkness by dinner time, but it will have to do. Meanwhile writing burns up lots of calories (I hope).
Barb: Wow, Sarah. We’re coming to your house! What time do you want us?
Kate: You put cheddar IN the apple pie? That sounds inspired. I’m always fantasizing about how make dessert the only part of the meal we need to eat. Give that pie a whole grain crust, or perhaps a crust of wheatgerm and walnuts, and you’re coming pretty darn close.
One year, when I was working in the Maine Attorney General’s office, my brother John stopped by and left me with a huge grocery bag full of ripe Concord grapes. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything more heavenly and heady. I absolutely had to make grape jelly, and it was truly ambrosial. I’ve never even come close to something that good again.
I put a farm kitchen full of produce waiting to be canned or frozen in the Joe Burgess book that’s coming out in February. I always think that so many people didn’t grow up on farms, and I want to take them there and show them what it looks like. We had wire egg baskets full of beans waiting to be shelled, rows of tomatoes rescued from an early frost laid out on newspapers. Strings of onions to be braided together and hung in the cellar. Rows of acorn squash and hubbard squash and several other varieties. Baskets of pears and plums. One surprising year, a truckload of cantaloupe and little round watermelons. You couldn’t move without tripping over food.