Fall

appletarteThere are plenty of reasons to enjoy apples this season. For me it's because they make the best desserts. With apples so plentiful at farmers' markets and supermarkets this time of year, I love to make tarts. There's just something special about an apple tart particularly apple tarte Tatin, one of the most classic of the French tarts. It's a dessert that can be called both comforting and elegant. Supposedly, as the story goes, the Tatin sisters invented the dessert by accident while attempting to make an apple tart to serve their hotel guests. The dish became so popular that its fame spread throughout the Sologne region. It's now known throughout the world. It seems that the best things are almost always invented accidentally.

Traditionally tarte Tatin starts out by melting butter in a skillet and adding sugar to make a caramel. Then apple quarters are added and cooked until tender. A round of pastry dough tops the apples and the whole skillet is placed in the oven. In my adaptation, I use brown sugar for its fullness of flavor, and add a pinch of cinnamon and a dash of brandy for that extra bit of goodness. Instead of cooking the apples in the caramel, which either tends to overcook them or burn the caramel, I just place the apples in the pan, cover with pastry, and bake. Serve a slice warm with a dollop of crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it's the perfect dessert after a cozy dinner or any time when the caving hits.

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All I can think about today is soup. This may be because I have too many vegetables crowding up the fridge. After another round of recipe development and a pre-hurricane sweep of the garden, I am left with the clear makings of minestrone—everything from a five-pound bag of carrots to three awkwardly space-hogging baby fennel bulbs. I have a big basket of winter squash I keep stumbling over in the pantry, and I have a little handful of green beans I just plucked off the dying vines this morning. I even have a few cranberry beans that are finally ready to harvest, from plants that miraculously show very little storm damage.

Our storm damage, in fact, was minimal. Had circumstances been different—if Sandy hadn’t taken a left turn when she did—we would likely be facing a very different winter here on the farm. Instead the hoop house is still standing, the animals are all fine, and in fact, we have another flock of laying hens due to arrive here this week (more on that soon). So thankfully, Roy is building—rather than rebuilding. Now, of course, I hear that a big Nor ‘Easter is coming up the coast this week. So maybe we are not out of the woods yet. But still. I can’t stop thinking about Staten Island and the Rockaways and Seaside Heights. All those folks still without power and nights getting really chilly. And lots of friends on the coast of Connecticut with serious flood damage. We did have plenty of coastal erosion up here on the Island and flooding in the lowest harbor areas in the towns, but most homes were safe and dry (and warm).

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butternut-squash-soup-web1As each new season arrives I begin to think that it's my favorite. The colors, the scents, and the flavors of fall are just beginning to tantalize my senses. For sure it's the rich and eye-catching colors that grab me first; the pumpkins, pomegranates, pears and apples are so beautiful they almost beg to be put on display.

Of course anything that is associated with Thanksgiving is also a hallmark of fall. Pumpkin, pecans, cranberries, even brussels sprouts. Just the words alone make my mouth water in anticipation. It seems in preparation for the winter, flavors intensify. Not that the flavors of summer aren't intense, but they have a different fresh delicate succulent quality about them that disappears in the fall.

All sorts of winter squash are turning up at the market right now. Hardy vegetables that have some staying power. They wait until you are ready for them, unlike summery tomatoes and basil that say "use me or lose me!"

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  gianteggplant.jpgYou just never know what you're going to find at the farmers' market. This past Sunday as I was walking toward a table heavy with eggplant I noticed something strange. The closer I got to it, the bigger it got. The eggplant was expanding right in front of my own eyes.

My first thought was, "Great, I mixed up my contact lenses again and have them in the wrong eyes." (Yes, I've done that before -- it distorts your vision.)

When I reached the eggplant, I bent down, staring closely at it. It stopped growing, and it was sharp and in focus. My eyes weren't deceiving me; these eggplants were far from normal. Sure, they still had their smooth, shiny, purple skin. But they were huge. Like beached whales, they were unmovable.

The farmer noticed me ogling and scurried over. "Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Oh, no. I'm just shocked at how big they are," I said. He exhaled a sigh of relief and smiled warmly.

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apple-kuchen-1024x682German grandmothers mixing up sweet yeast dough to form coffee cakes filled with fresh fruit of the season and rich, creamy custard made with real cream have been passing along the kuchen tradition for generations.

If authentic kuchen, which is a German word for “cake,” has been a common thread weaving through your family for decades, you probably won’t appreciate this recipe. The only kuchen my family eats comes to our table as a gift from an expert peach kuchen-maker who works with my husband.

The simplicity of this Quick Apple Kuchen recipe caught my attention as I browsed through an old cookbook I inherited from my mom’s extensive library. The book is so old, it refers to margarine as oleo. Up until 1952, U.S. law required margarine producers to label their product “oleomargarine.” But, the book is not so old that bakers couldn’t find cake mix in their grocery store.

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