Time to harvest our blessings

The smell of fall is in the air. Gentle, cool breezes have replaced the hot summer sun and humidity that lingers long after you come inside. The air conditioning is taking a much needed rest.
The light seems to change to a clear and almost irredescent brillance as the season transition. It is almost like a calling to us to wake up from our busy-ness to notice the change and make changes in our own lives. I am already planning my order for a large bundle hardwood that will get stacked in a the back garden and sustain me through the cold winter months. This is a time when the garden's harvest changes too. The cool, fall months are a time to turn the soil and fold in the compost mulch that has now seasoned itself during the hot summer months. The tomato stalks and sunflower stems get pulled from the damp earth in the raised bed boxes. We prepare and replant with lettuces, fall being the perfect time of the year to grow an abundance of varieties outside in the Southern zone until the frost threatens.

The markets will soon be dwindling from their abundant, light summer harvests and the dark, earthy root vegetables and squash will humbly take its place. As the markets close for the season, we retreat back into our own homes to settle in for the cold that will surely come. Hearty Stews and satisfying one-pot dishes will replace salt-specked hierloom tomato salads and crunchy cucumbers laced with a lightly sugared sherry vinaigrette. What once cooled the palate will now warm our stomachs.

I spent the morning rifling through my treasured and worn copy of Alice Water's book, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook to remind myself of what the season ahead may offer this harvest. Earthy and soft, sweet Chanterelles, messy dungeness crabs, soul-satisfying butternut squash, sweet and juicy tangerines and fluffly fronds of fennel. I can hardly name them without assigning them adjectives that recall my own memories of enjoying them from seasons past.
As I reread Alice's introduction, I was reminded again how my passion for food is as much about place, memory and experience as it is about the food itself. I love food not only because of the ingredients, but also about how they come to my kitchen or end up on the table.

From shopping at the farmer's market with straw bag in hand, to harvesting lettuces and herbs from our back yard garden to traveling all over the world and tasting new and inspiring food in ways I could never imagine in places I never knew existed. Swanky Restaurants, quaint and homey bistros, invitations into ordinary people’s homes, dinner with family and friends at my own table. I love them all and yet they all offer something different for the senses, palate and plate.

I have been fortunate enough to sit at the table with an Italian family of twenty who makes hand-dried pasta in the way that few producers do anymore. I have sipped wine with winemakers who have revolutionized what we now drink today. I have watched in awe as a chef I admired was now cooking at my side and teaching me a simple technique that I had not yet known. I have sat at my grandmother's table and eaten her deliciously fluffy potato-laden pierogies. No experience goes unappreciated or unnoticed. Give me a simple meal made with authenticity and love. I would take that any day over a six-course meal. It may be because I never got comfortable with a service setting of twenty pieces of silver or because I could care less what the label of the bottle says, as long as it is pleasing to my palate and it is honest in its ingredients and how it came to be. There is a place and a a time for those experiences, but I treasure most the daily enjoyment of eating and enjoying food. Eating deliciously well is a way of awakening to that which enlivens us, inspires us and feeds our souls as much as our stomachs. And so, as the season changes and fall arrives, I await in anticipation of the harvest and offer my thanks and blessings for what has come to pass and what will come to be. Life is short, enjoy it all!

A fall recipe to whet the appetite

Pear Tarte Tatin
Serves 10-12
Pre-heat oven to 45o degrees

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 ½ Tablesoons unsalted butter
3-5 Tablespoons ice water

Mix 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1/8 tsp. salt into 1 cup of flour. Cut the butter into small pieces and cut them into the flour until it resembles small peas. Add 3 Tbsp of ice water and gather up the dough. If it does not hold together, add more as needed. Flatten into a round dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until ready to use.
Note: a good quality, frozen puff pastry is a good substitute for non-bakers like myself or those pressed for time, but who want a delicious dessert.

For the filling:
5-6 # of comice pears {not overripe} Should yield about 14 cups when sliced.
½ cup sugar
½ cup melted unsalted butter
1-2 Tablespoons cream

Peel, core and thinly slice the pears. Toss with sugar.
Pour the melted butter into a cast-iron skillet and sprinkle with ¼ cup of sugar. Place the pear slices in the pan, arranged in concentric circles, a layer at a time. Our ¼ cup of melted butter over the pears.
Roll out the crust into a 13 inch diameter circle and place over the pears. Turn the extra dough under and cut several small slits in the dough to release steam. Bake the tarte for 10 minutes. Brush the curst with the cream and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown.
When cooked, remove the pan from the oven. Put the pan over high heat and reduce the excess juice, just until there is about ½ inch juice left in the pan. Gently move the tarte around in the pan to loosen the edges and caramelize the juices, about 15 minutes. Loosen the sides of the tarte with a spatula during the process so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
Cool the tarte for 15 minutes before unmolding, then invert on a large, flat serving plate.

Buon appetito!

* Recipe adapted from Alice Water’s book, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. In the summer months, subsitute apples, peaches or apricots. Photography by Rob Brinson.

Copyright 2007
Alisa Barry

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