Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: September, Week 4

Fall officially arrived yesterday, the midpoint between the longest and shortest days of the year, between the lushly green start of the harvest season and the onset of the lean months. And though the days of late have been sunny and warm, temperatures fall as quickly as the evening sun.

Though we're still seeing plenty of summer produce at the farmers' market and in the CSA shares, a subtle shift has begun in my eating habits. I actually baked this past weekend and made a batch of homemade pasta as I've started to crave a little more wholesome starch in my daily meals.

Last week's cabbage soup whetted my appetite for hearty dishes, and though I'm still not fully into the routine of serious cooking, this month's local meal reveals the coming shift.

The Renaissance Man and I share an interest in the ancient Celtic calendar, which closely followed the turn of the seasons, and as the fall equinox (known as Mabon) approached, I wanted to make a meal that exemplified the richness of September's harvest. Apples and oats, traditional Celtic fare, came to mind first, but my shopping spree at the market this past weekend offered additional ideas.

I'd been avoiding beets all season -- not out of dislike but rather from the knowledge that I didn't have time to cook with them in the midst of the preservation frenzy -- but when I spotted the Spelt Farmer's lovely striped Chioggia beets, I knew it was time to give in.

I've found that I really like beets best when they're roasted. Some of their native sweetness comes through, but it usually has a savory edge that I prefer. So I tossed the beet chunks with small whole carrots (from the Cheerful Lady), cubed Red Pontiac potatoes from my CSA share, red onion (also from the Cheerful Lady), garlic (CSA), and a crumble of dried parsley from my garden. I added juice from half a lemon, a drizzle of homemade lemon basil syrup, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper and tossed them all together before roasting them in a 375 F oven for about an hour.

Along with the vegetables, I steamed some fresh kale from the Madcap Farmer, only adding a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt to finish it. It made a nice dark background for the vividly colored and crispy-rich roasted vegetables, and I found myself savoring the meal to the very last bite. (The Renaissance Man also gave his immediate approval.)

I saved the apples and oats for dessert, taking an old apple coffeecake recipe from (of all things!) a government recipe booklet and tweaking it to fit in more local foods: oats, spelt flour, dry milk, egg, maple sugar, and apples. My version resulted in a homey, light but hearty cake with a moist crumb and a crackly edge. While it would have been perfect with a cup of hot cider, I chose instead to pay tribute to the earlier harvest by serving small glasses of this year's dandelion wine, made with blossoms from the Farm.

For those of you who are wondering, this year's dandelion wine has a surprising kick. While previous years' batches ended up light and fizzy with little alcoholic kick, this year's wine is a little heavier and more syrupy (just a very little) and has a pleasing, warming finish in the throat that presses you back into the chair and says, "Oh no, honey, you're not going anywhere anytime soon. Get mellow, girl." It's goooooood.

The whole meal made the perfect celebratory welcome to autumn, and it may well be a meal worth repeating for future years. The hard labors of the harvest season are winding down -- and that's reason enough to enjoy something a little more festive.

That's fall, folks!

Apple-Oat Autumn Cake

In digging into recipe books in government documents for a research project, I found a booklet called Apples in Appealing Ways that seemed the perfect find for fall. The "Apple Coffeecake" recipe looked like a good one for either dessert or breakfast, and after a few local-foods tweaks, it was just right for a celebration of the autumnal equinox. Serve warm with hot cider, spiced tea, or even dandelion wine or homemade liqueur.

2 T unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c maple sugar
2 T rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Cream butter and maple sugar together in small bowl. Add oats and cinnamon and mix well. Set aside to use as crumb topping.

1 c spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 c rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c maple sugar
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1 large apple, peeled, cored, sliced

Whisk together spelt flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl until well mixed. Set aside.

In large bowl, cream butter with maple sugar. Add egg and milk and beat thoroughly. Add dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease an 8" square baking dish. Pour batter into dish. Arrange apple slices on top, then crumble oat topping on top.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. Serve warm.

Makes 9 servings

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