There is something in the air. You can smell it, feel it, and if you look closely enough you can see it. The days are getting shorter as darkness creeps ever quicker into the once blue sky…
Fall is on it’s way.
Fall is by far my favourite season for a multitude of reasons. It is not hot, and it is usually not too cold. It is a moderate season which I prefer. Tree leaves change all kinds of beautiful colours, the air becomes crisp and carries with it a unique refreshing smell signifying the end of the hot humid days of summer. Mostly, the thing that I love about fall, which should come as no surprise, is the food. Autumn vegetables in my opinion, are the best vegetables. They are root vegetables, hearty greens, squashes and many more. They are versatile, mostly easy to store, nutritious, and of course delicious.
Some of you maybe wondering why I am writing about fall when it is still summer. I know there are people out there who cling to summer as though it were a mother and them a new born babe. I however, as I have said, love the fall, and look forward to it all year round. It is also important to note that I of course, work in a kitchen. It is always hot in the kitchen. In the summer it is insanely hot. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how hot it gets. So, when the fall finally comes and breaks the heat it is much anticipated. It is the same for me as when spring arrives and ushers away the cold, frigid, wallowing winter.
People occupying the northern hemisphere of our planet understand. Many of them are preparing as I type this, for the fall and the horrid season that comes after it. People are gathering fresh summer produce and transforming it into pickles, jams, jellies, and all sorts of other preserves. I myself have also begun the not so arduous process of preserving summer in a jar. People clinging to the old ways are readying their pigs, cows, lambs, turkeys, and other animals for the autumn slaughter. The meat to be frozen, cured, salted, smoked, and dried in order to sustain them throughout the long impetuous winter.
I have vivid memories from my childhood of this time of year. The smell of vinegar and spices wafting through our house as my mother jarred relishes, and pickles. I would help to pick wild berries which would be transformed into red or black currant jam, and blueberry, black berry, or strawberry jam. I remember sitting at our kitchen table, a bushel of apples beside me, feeding them one by one into an odd hand cranked machine which would peel, core, and spiral cut the apples. The deconstructed apples would make apple butter, apple jelly with cinnamon and clove, and apple sauce. Any left overs would go into an apple pie or turnover.
We, living on a small farm, would also butcher our chickens and turkeys in the fall. Slipping them upside down into a tin cone, pulling their necks through the bottom, and slitting their throats with a sharp knife. Once fully dead, we would dip the still warm carcasses into boiling water to aid in the removal of the feathers. The whole family (except mom who didn’t “deal with dead things”) would gather around and pluck the plumage form the poultry. These animals, who’s lives we took would sustain us until the spring. The knowledge of where these animals came from, how they lived, and how they died, prevented us from wasting even the smallest morsel of meat.
Winter, spring, and even summer provide us with a vision of a forthcoming future where food is plentiful. Autumn does not. Winter follows autumn, and very little grows in winter. Where I live on the east coast of Canada, winter can last a long time. Sometimes, it will last form mid October, to mid April. That is along time to go without growing any food. Thus, autumn is or was the time when people prepared for the hard times ahead.
Most of the techniques people of old developed and mastered out of necessity are still used today. Techniques such as pickling are ones that a lot of people still do at home. Some of the other techniques such as confit (slow cooking and preserving in fat), smoking, salting, and curing are almost exclusively the domain of restaurants. The fact that anyone, be it in restaurants or at home, still uses any of these techniques is a testament to the ingenuity of our ancestors. Maybe that is why I love fall so much. It is a season that forced people to be resourceful. It is the season that lead people to discover all of these amazing techniques for transforming food from highly perishable, to long lasting. Not only did these techniques make survival possible, they also caused a metamorphosis of the food which made it even more delicious in most cases.
Maybe it’s the chill in the air. Maybe it’s the anticipation of smelling thousands of pumpkins slowly cook from the inside out. Maybe it’s all the marvelous cooking techniques which it spawned. It could be the nostalgia. Perhaps, it is just the food. No matter what the reason, I love fall.
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