Fall

pickledbeets_003.jpgDo you remember how a peanut butter sandwich always tasted better when your mom made it? Just a couple of slices of bread sandwiching peanut butter. I’d make my own sandwich and it just never tasted as good as the one mom made for me.

Well, that’s what happened with the beets I pickled yesterday. They taste fine, but just not the same as the beets my mom or my mother-in-law used to make. Since I didn’t have a recipe from my mother-in-law, I looked in my mom’s recipe file and found the one she must have used. Although she cheated just a bit and used beets in a can from the grocery store, I used the recipe for the brine she made.

The beets I cooked, peeled and heated in a brine were fresh from the farmers’ market. Just as I remembered from the time my mother-in-law showed me how to make pickled beets, my hands were stained a pretty shade of red by the time I was finished peeling the beets.

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apples.jpgLast weekend I went apple picking with my family at Silverman's Farm in Connecticut. We have been going there since I was a kid, when we would all stand by and watch as the apple press squeezed the juice out of freshly-picked apples, and would get to sample the delicious result of apple cider. Unfortunately the apple press has been retired; it is now located inside the market as a symbolic relic from the past. Because of new production standards, the farm no longer offers unpasteurized cider made on the premises, but instead pasteurizes and bottles its cider off site.

The orchards are currently laden with apples ready for picking. Pickers are taken up to the orchards by tractors running nonstop. Everywhere you look there are families with young kids, groups of friends, and those who come every year. The apples are great this year; however, they are ripening faster than usual. Go now before all the apples have fallen off the trees and bring home a bag of apples.

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persimmondatebreadIt is a little known fact that I can speak Japanese. True, I only know two words, but I say them well.

1. Hachiya. No, it is not a greeting. It’s a persimmon.

2. Fuyu. No, not the clothing line (that’s FUBU). They are also persimmons. Not to be confused with Russell Simmons (who incidentally created Phat Farm, not FUBU).

There are about a dozen varieties of persimmons grown throughout the world; only two are generally found in the States: Hachiya and Fuyu (Fuyugaki). Both are Japanese.

Though Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons are both fun to say and have similarly pumpkin colored skin, they are different in shape, texture, and culinary use. It’s important to know the difference between them; otherwise, your persimmon eating experience will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Hachiya persimmons are acorn shaped and have deeper orange skin with black streaks on it. They are astringent, which means they can be eaten only when fully ripened. A ripe Hachiya is extremely soft and should be squishy in your hand. Removing the thin skin reveals coral colored flesh so thick and glossy it looks like marmalade, and tastes like it too -- it's pleasingly sweet with hints of mango and apricot. Though they can be enjoyed raw, Hachiyas are really prized for baking.

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quinceAt first glance — and even, quite frankly, after extended contemplation — there is little to hint that the quince is one of the most delicious of fall's fruits. It is rough-hewn and blocky in appearance, like someone's first woodworking project gone horribly wrong. And should you make the mistake of taking a bite of it raw, that's kind of how it tastes too.

But you know about judging things on first impressions. Take that same quince, give it a little careful tending and you'll find a fruit that is utterly transformed. Cook quince — slowly and gently, bathed in just a little bit of sugar syrup — and the flesh that was once wooden and tannic turns a lovely rose hue, with a silky texture and a subtly sweet, spicy flavor that recalls apples and pears baked with cinnamon and clove.

The traditional way to cook a quince is by poaching it in spiced simple syrup. That's easy enough, but I've come to favor a slightly different technique from my old friend Deborah Madison's cookbook "Seasonal Fruit Desserts." She bakes them in a syrup made partly with white wine and spiced with cinnamon, clove and cardamom along with tangerine or orange zest.

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slabpie-apple-slice_sm1.jpgRaise your hand if you have an over abundance of apples right now. I thought so! There are many things I want to do with my apples; make apple challah, apple sauce, apple cake, and an apple slab pie. Well, 1 out of 4 isn’t so bad now, is it?

This past summer I made a cherry slab pie and it was so good. I shared it with my friends and, without tooting my own horn, we are still talking about it. So, why not an apple slab pie? The pastry from the cherry slab pie was near perfect. I made another batch of the dough and then simply switched out the fruit. Apples cook differently than cherries, so I adapted the filling from a recipe from The Cook’s Country Cookbook.

Slab pies are great for a crowd. And this pie fed a huge crowd. It was demolished in about 15 minutes. I had one teeny tiny bite. That teeny tiny bite was really good. ;I am going to make this many times over throughout out the next few months. Next time I will pair my apples with some fresh pomegranate seeds!

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