Fall

applesauce.jpgMy local market recently had a sale on apples. I spent 10 minutes carefully selecting the most perfectly shaped, shiny Macs, Rome Beauties, and Pink Ladies I could find.

I gently placed my bags of apples on the conveyor belt at the checkout. As I continued to unload my remaining groceries, from the corner of my eye I saw my apples disappear from the belt: blam! onto the scale, then blam! into the grocery bag. Before I could utter a word, it was too late. My previously pristine apples were irrevocably spotted with unsightly blemishes.

Rather than trying to eat around the bruises, I did what any resourceful cook would do: I made apple sauce.

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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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polebeansraw.jpgWhen the pole bean trellis blew down for the second time, we left it. Granted, we were a bit annoyed at the pole beans. They took a lifetime to germinate and what seemed like eternity to start yielding. Meanwhile the bush beans were churning out lovely filet beans by the pound every day.  We would have ignored the pole beans altogether except for this nagging voice I had in my head, “Pole beans are better than bush beans.” I grew up with this voice. My father’s.

My father and his mother (my grandmother Honey, who “put up” pole beans at the end of every summer) were always carrying on about the superiority of “pole beans” over bush beans. (Pole beans are green bean varieties like Kentucky Wonder that grow on vines as long as 12 feet, therefore needing support in the form of poles or some other trellising.)  I needed to find out the truth for myself, as it seemed to me that our bush beans (a variety from FedCo called Beananza) were pretty darn tasty—and oh-so-lovely to look at, too. The pole beans looked kind of gnarled up and blotchy the minute they appeared on the scene.

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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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porkapplesPork and apples go hand in hand, don't they? That image of a whole spit-roasted pig comes to mind with the apple stuck in its mouth. There is something special about the sweet taste of apples and the full flavor of pork that work so well together in a dish. Roasting the pork and apples together is the perfect way to marry the two flavors. That's exactly what I do in this pork roast recipe, which is flavored with honey, mustard, and rosemary. For this perfect flavor pairing, I roast tiny lady apples alongside the pork.

For a roast like this, pork tenderloin is the easiest to prepare and the most flavorful and moist. It's lean, roasts fast, and it stays tender, just as the name would suggest. The juices that collect in the pan go into the making of a gravy that has the flavor of the honey-Dijon rub, the rosemary, and the sweet apple juices. The rosemary sprigs that roast alongside the loins become crispy and are entirely edible, lending bursts of woddsy flavor to each bite. A meal such as this would be great for an elegant holiday dinner or even a simple Sunday supper.

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