Years ago, when “Color Me Beautiful” was all the rage, I “had my colors done.” I turned out to be an “Autumn,” which didn’t surprise me in the least - in every possible way, from my reddish hair to the deepest reaches of my soul, I am a fall girl. This morning as I walked the dogs I felt that first snap of cold in the air, and saw leaves on the sidewalk, rendered terrestrial by two days of heavy rains. They were an indescribable scarlet, surrendering their lives in a blaze of color that jumped up from the dull, gray concrete and made me smile. It’s coming.
I know that there are people who adore summer, and who bitterly mourn the end of heat, light, blooming flowers and lazy days by the pool. I try to understand that, but my own yearning is for the end of that indolence and warmth. As the air grows cooler, the days shorten, and the leaves turn from endless green to an assortment of reds and golds, I feel a surge of energy and possibility. School starts, sweaters come out of storage, and there is a pencil-scented air of fresh starts. I will no longer feel vaguely sticky and frizzy all the time, and I can put away the light, bright clothes that seemed so fresh at the end of May, and now seem limp and exhausted. It is time for cashmere and long sleeves, flannel and layers in the richest browns, deepest greens and bravest shots of orange.
There is a faint smell of wood smoke in the air, which I have to be imagining because it’s been illegal to burn leaves here since I was in high school. Still, it’s there, along with the sound of the college marching band practicing the fight song. There are football games, tailgate parties, and the Homecoming Parade with fleece-jacketed children scrambling to catch the candy thrown by passing dignitaries, and stuffing some into their cold-pinked cheeks even though it’s Right Before Dinner.
I also love the fall holidays best. I no longer trick or treat, and Sam is too old for a costume parade at school, but there is still some vestigial magic in a cool, October night with miniature ballerinas and Spidermen around every corner. Thanksgiving brings my family together around a starched tablecloth, eating exactly what we always ate after many feints at “having something different, you know, just to make it more interesting.” We don’t really want it to be “interesting;” we want a warm, glowing beacon of connection to bring us together and illuminate how really lucky we are to have so much.
I delight ridiculously in pumpkins, squashes, and apples…I could write for several days just about the apples. The smell of an orchard, the selection of the best specimens from tree and ground, a day spent stomping among the benevolent trees that offer us hundreds of round, red/green packages of bliss. I know it’s all science, but I prefer to see it as magic, like the trip to the pumpkin field to choose the specimens that best fit our plans for a scary face, a lacy artistic rendering, or (in my case) random stars and moons.
There is also the cider, which I believe to be the actual drink of the Gods (do they have apples in Greece?), the Butternut Squash soup, the apple pie, the apple cakes, and the homemade applesauce that makes the house smell like the home of the cider-drinking deities. Even as I mourn the end of the heirloom tomatoes, the crisp corn and the jar of Basil on my kitchen windowsill, I am buoyed by the rich promise of Things That Go With Cinnamon. Because how could that be bad?
Try not to mourn, you summer people. There really are seasons for everything and everyone, and you have had months of linens, tan skin and sandals. Be happy for those of us who come alive with the first thread of chill in the hot, moist air; this is our time to bloom and glow in sync with the natural world. Did I mention cashmere and homemade applesauce? You’ll love it.
Ann Graham Nichols cooks and writes the Forest Street Kitchen blog in East Lansing, Michigan where she lives in a 1912 house with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals.
by Chef Mark Shoup