I love fall. It’s my favourite season. I like all the rest, mind you, especially summer. But there’s just something special about fall … the golden quality of autumn sunshine, crisp night air that makes for what I grew up calling ‘good sleeping weather,’ the glorious colours of turning leaves, and the bittersweet knowledge that their beauty is soon to be followed by their dying away until next year.
I experience a moment of excitement every year in late August when I see the first crisp, tart and juicy Jersey Macs for sale. Soon, the market stands are full to bursting with all the varieties of apples grown locally and a cornucopia of root vegetables. There’s something so satisfying about buying the first winter squash of the season, with the promise of so many possibilities that spring and summer, lovely as they are, just don’t have on offer.
The hearty aromatic herbs in my garden are still going at their peak – sage, thyme, and rosemary – and the parsley is abundant. The basil, on the other hand, is barely hanging in there, but in my mind it’s more of a summer herb, fresh and sexy and just calling for hot sunny days with tomatoes warm from the garden.
Just before I sat down to write this I spent a few minutes pulling weeds in the herb garden. My arm brushed against the rosemary, and now I smell its fragrance, an exotic herby perfume.
In short, autumn marks the return to good cooking weather. As summer draws to a close, I long to return to slow braises and roasts, long-simmering soups. Sure, the barbecue is great and the weather is still good for outdoor grilling, but it doesn’t fill the house with the glory of home-cooked aromas.
I spent the last week of August and first week of September at the cottage. One of the few social events I planned (taking my beach reading time very seriously) was a “ladies lunch at the lake” with relatives who live nearby. I had envisioned a lovely summer luncheon on the patio, with salads and other cold dishes. The reality was different. The calendar may still have said officially summer, but it was definitely a fall day! We ended up inside at the pine table overlooking a view of the gray and rolling lake, with logs burning in the fireplace for warmth. The menu was a big pot of a hearty vegetable soup I made that morning with purchases from the local farm market, and sandwiches. Flexibility in the kitchen cannot be overrated, especially when the seasons have their own schedule for change.
This week, my guy and I spent Sunday afternoon at a food festival in a city not far from here. We had a wonderful lunch at a favourite restaurant, then spent a couple of hours wandering among the booths, sitting by the lake and watching the ducks, and generally enjoying the perfect weather and each other’s company. As we made our way back through the festival grounds, a farm market stall caught my eye, with basket after basket of unusual vegetables on display. I ended up buying 2 pounds in total of pink fingerling potatoes, golden beets, red, purple and yellow carrots and the biggest, most beautiful shallots I’ve ever seen. Dinner that evening included a medley of simply roasted vegetables. When we sat down to eat these, along with braised pork chops, my first bite was the beet, a perfectly cooked surprise of tangy freshness. Mmmm, fall …
Here’s my method (I wouldn’t exactly call it a recipe). Two pounds of mixed root vegetables was enough for the two of us, with leftovers for my dinner last evening.
Clean and trim the vegetables, and cut into roughly equal sizes, keeping in mind how long each takes to cook. The goal is for them all to be done at the same time.
Toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the leaves of several sprigs of thyme and a few leaves of chopped fresh sage. Include one or two finely chopped garlic cloves and a generous amount of ground pepper. Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cooked through but still toothsome, turning them over about halfway through. Lightly sprinkle with salt before serving. Final step: enjoy!