Fall

deepdishapple.jpgIt's that time of season where the leaves begin to fall and so do the apples. Though seeing summer end is bittersweet, early fall in all its glory is one of my favorite times of the year, mainly because of apple season. Picking apples at this time of year is a tradition in many families, as it is in mine. I always go to Silverman's Farm to pick the most beautiful apples available in a wide array of varieties. My absolute favorite apples to eat are Honeycrisp and Jonathan, but my favorite apples to bake with are Cortland and Crispin (aka Mutsu). Every year I bake an apple pie with varying results. In the end I always try to make a better one than in the previous year, perfecting my own so-called perfect recipe.

This time I sought new inspiration and decided to turn to a cookbook in my mother's collection. It's a well used old Hungarian cookbook from circa 1931 that had belonged to my grandmother's sister. In it I found the most unique pie crust recipe, which I have adapted here. The combination of ingredients is very European, and one of them might even be considered very unusual, white wine. I've heard of and read about Christoper Kimball's discovery of the foolproof pie crust made with vodka, but it looks to me Europeans had been using alcohol as an ingredient in baking for a long time.

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garden.jpgThere's nothing more spectacular than the brilliant colors of Autumn in the South, especially the trees that turn deep shades of amber and ruby red. It's my favorite time of year to visit the farm in middle Georgia, where I grew up and all of my family still resides. The 2 hour drive from my home in Atlanta takes me to a place that is truly another world. A phone call from my niece, Caroline, asking me to take her and her best friend to the Georgia National Fair, in nearby Perry was a good enough reason to go home for a long weekend.

As I start to mourn the loss of peaches and summer tomatoes (the one's that are actually red inside and taste like tomatoes), the cool weather ushers in the fall crops. My Dad planted, many years ago for his grandchildren, an entire orchard devoted to autumn crops. There are many different varieties of pears, figs, and pomegranate trees all of which are surrounded by an orchard of pecan trees. I think my dad had some sort of fairy tale vision of picking up his grandchildren at the bus stop after school and taking them to the orchard where he could sit in his swing and watch them frolic among the trees while eating fresh picked pears and figs.

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figtomatosaladIt's September. Summer's over.

I'm probably the only person in San Diego who isn't sad that September has arrived. Why? Because September is the start of fresh fig season, and you simply can't be sad when you see fresh figs.

Figs are a sensual fruit. Their velvety soft skin emits a sweet, floral fragrance and often splits with juicy ripeness. They are the prized jewels of farmers' markets, and nowadays most major supermarkets sell them as well.

Figs are highly perishable, so buy them when you know you'll eat them in a couple of days. Otherwise, it's best to store them in an air-tight container lined with paper towel in the refrigerator for up to three days. Don't worry though. They'll never last that long. I don't care what the weather is like this September. As long as I have my fresh California figs, I'm good.

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poachedpearsWe make a lot of fuss over heirloom peach varieties that date back to the 1960s and tomatoes that go back as far as the 1930s. But did you know that the Bartlett pear, that standard grocery store fruit, actually dates back to the 1770s? The Bartlett, called the Williams pear in England where it was first found, gets its name from Enoch Bartlett, who was the first person to sell the trees in the U.S. in the early 1800s.

"Barts" are the predominate pear grown in California, and there are two growing sites with very different fruit. The earliest pears were harvested in August around the Sacramento delta area. They are fine, but the ones being picked about now from the hilly orchards of Lake and Mendocino counties are much better.

How to choose: The best perfectly ripened Bartlett pears will be golden and fragrant and will have a slight softness at the neck. Don't worry if the fruit shows some russeting -- that's only skin-deep and doesn't affect the flavor.

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plumsaladI love plums. Love them. They are so versatile, good both savory and sweet. I also love a good salad and am always willing to try something new in this arena as well.

The key to a decent dressing is good olive oil. There is no question it elevates the salad to new heights. It can also mercilessly drag it down when not up to par. A good extra-virgin olive oil is key to this Grilled Plum Salad with Brandy-Mint Vinaigrette. The ingredients are few, so quality matters.

When I made the dressing, I sort of felt like it needed something else, another flavor. But then I stepped back and looked at the other ingredients going into this salad; bacon, grilled plums, goat cheese, toasted pecans and peppery arugula. I decided to hold off adding anything and I’m glad I did.

This salad exploded with flavor. A bite with plum, cheese, arugula, nut and vinaigrette….yum. However, it’s definitely a grown up salad with the brandy addition. The perfect starter for a special dinner.

Try it for yourself when you have some time. 

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