Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Comforting Foods of Fall

The other day, I spent a rare peaceful moment reading on our front porch swing, inhaling deep breaths of warm autumn air and mourning the loss of summer. Fall can be a lovely time in Minnesota, but hiding just behind the smell of wet leaves are sharp icy winds, so I can never quite leap onto the autumn bandwagon.

My husband, however, is a creature of fall. He eagerly anticipates the resurrection of his sweaters and the recollection of early October mornings spent on the North Shore of Lake Superior. But most of all, he loves the reappearance of fall foods. 

Ingredients are seasonal, as you might expect. The cycles of growth and weather ensure that the watermelons we eat in excess in the summer are far superior to those we might find on a grocery store's bottom shelf in the winter. Restaurants take seasonal ingredients into account when changing menus, to fit both availability and mood; I am always relieved when berries and heirloom tomatoes appear on menus after months of silence.

But Chef Matt's attachment is largely to the ingredients of autumn, foods that defy the image of dying crops and weakening sunshine: apples, sweet potatoes, wild mushrooms, pumpkins, squash, beets, cranberries. Such foods are wonderful in their stamina and subtlety. A sweet potato can hold its ground paired with something as delicate as a cream sauce or something as hearty as peppercorn-crusted steak, without disappearing under either. And apples, so fine alone, are equally beautiful in a pie or garnishing a pork loin. 

I feel as if fall foods are Mother Nature's way of shouting at us, "Wait! Wait! I'm not done yet. See what else I have before you turn in for the winter!" Summer foods are abundant and brash and sweet, and winter foods unleash survival instincts in the way that they stick to our bones. The produce of autumn settles neatly in between. 

My preference is generally for the foods of summer, but I see the allure of the fall harvest.  Butternut squash ravioli and pumpkin pie are cozy and comforting, and as the days cool, there are few things more healing than a cup of hot cider. If I must endure fall on the way back to summer, I shall at least eat well on the journey. 

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