Jessie Raymond: Fall temps trigger a cooking frenzy
Nothing makes me smile quite like the first cool morning of fall. And boy, did fall come suddenly this year.
I was asleep when it happened, but the National Weather Service reports that the seasons unofficially changed at 2:48 a.m. on Sunday morning. With a whoosh, out went swimming holes and sunburns, and in came football and infinity scarves.
A Vermont summer is supposed to be the reward for surviving a Vermont winter, not the equal but opposite punishment it turned out to be this year. I prefer autumn — it’s cool enough that I can enjoy the outdoors without all the bugs, yet still warm and sunny enough that I don’t hate everything and everyone every minute of every day (winter does that to me).
On Saturday, when it was still full-on summer, I knew there were apples and tomatoes in need of picking. But I had no interest in tackling the work under weather conditions better suited to poolside lounging. The calendar may have said September, but my deodorant was still working at July levels.
I spent Saturday wondering how long it would be before I could once again fill the house with the aromas of comfort food (the best kind of food) without turning the kitchen into a sweat lodge.
The answer, it turned out, was “12 hours, give or take.” When I woke up Sunday, fall had arrived. It was downright chilly — in the delicious October way that makes you look forward to wearing socks, I mean, and not in the miserable January way that makes you want to abandon your house and flee to Costa Rica.
The sudden change in temperature Sunday drove me into immediate action. In a frenzy of cinnamon-scented ecstasy, I cooked, baked, canned, dried and froze the day away, starting with two loaves of bread, ending with an apple pie, and filling the hours in between with applesauce and apple butter — plus a full chicken dinner, just because I could. For the first time in months, my kitchen smelled like something other than overripe bananas.
When fall arrives, I feel a pressing need to stock the larder, even though I’m not exactly sure what a larder is or if we even have one. My instincts tell me to keep making great quantities of calorie-dense food and socking it away to protect against winter’s upcoming scarcity. (My instincts tend to forget that I live a mile from the nearest supermarket.)
These cool, crisp days make me a little crazy, I guess. Tuesday, for instance, when my husband Mark got home, I met him at the door with a mug of hot apple cider. While I lovingly stirred a large, simmering pot of chicken stew, I told him about some fascinating new ideas I had for root vegetable storage. A batch of apple dumplings cooled on the counter.
“I wish fall lasted all year,” I said with a sigh.
Mark snorted and said, “Oh, please. After next weekend, you’ll be done. You won’t bake another pie all year.”
But, yeah, that sounds about right. Why should this year be any different?
As fond as I am of my cozy autumn rituals, the cycle of cooking, washing dishes, baking, washing dishes, canning, washing dishes and so on goes from heartwarming to hellish quite rapidly — especially when I know I could save a lot of time and achieve nearly the same level of seasonal satisfaction simply by lighting a pumpkin spice candle.
Maybe, as Mark insists, it’s not so much fall that I love as much as it is the change of seasons.
After monotonous months of sweaty days and restless nights, Sunday brought relief in the form of bracing air and welcome smells and tastes, literally overnight. But the novelty will soon wear off, and then, as usual, I’ll be looking ahead to the next transition.
I’m already wondering if winter will arrive as abruptly as fall has. Will we go to bed after some gray late-November day and wake up the next morning to a muffled landscape buried in white?
Given how I feel about winter, I shouldn’t even ask such a question. But I have to be honest: Nothing makes me smile quite like the first snowfall of the season.