Since I find the acts of cooking and eating among life’s greater pleasures, I enjoy and am challenged each season by the foods, the harvesting, the preparation, the diversity of recipes and coordination of cooking skills involved in getting it from raw material to my plate. Seasonally, in the northern hemisphere and particularly in the Pacific Northwest, summer and autumn supply the richest variety and abundance of foraged and cultivated foods. On the other hand, depending on where you live, late spring and early summer can provide nutritious foraged foods and the beginning pickings of cultivated ones; while the winter season seems to tax our ingenuity in gathering both foraged and cultivated foods, keeping them from spoiling in storage and in knowing how best to prepare them as food and medicine.
Using Our Senses to Journey
Let’s begin by taking a sensual journey into the cornucopia of autumn’s bounty by thinking of answers to a few questions about your favorite culinary fruit. Take a moment and thoughtfully consider each question and response in your own manner. If you are familiar with produce only from your grocery store or farmer’s market display, please imagine this as your place of selection. Feel free to improvise ways to enjoy or obtain more data on answering the questions such as actually obtaining and taking a bite of your sample!
Picture your choice of the perfect autumn culinary fruit, your favorite, still attached to its branch, stalk or vine. What makes it perfect for you? In your mind’s eye, thoughtfully pluck it or even pick it up off the ground where it sits. Inspect it. Look for bruises, bird pecks, droppings, moldy or soft spots, worm holes or other blemishes. Roll it around in your hands. Is it heavy for its size? Is it small, misshapen? How would you describe the outer texture of the peel? Is it waxy, veined, fuzzy? What about its color? Is it streaked, or of solid color, flecked with white, cream or green? Is there a light spot on it from where it shouldered up against another piece of fruit or where it sat on the ground? Should it be peeled or can you eat leave the skin on and eat it out of hand? Do you need to let it ripen off the vine? How will it change in color, in flavor?
Since smell and taste are entwined when it comes to eating, if the peel is edible, what does it smell and taste like? Is it sharply flavored, bland, astringent, sweet, sour? How about the fruit underlying the peel? Is it bitter or sweet? Do you pucker and eat gingerly or smile and savor its flavor, feeling satisfied that you’ve got a good one? Are you inclined to slurp when you eat it, enjoying its aroma and taste? Are there fragrances or tones that linger longer than others? How does it feel on the tongue? Is it warming, leaving a hint of vanilla essence or perhaps cooling with a green apple fragrance, snappy with the aroma of ripe berry, or savory and tropical?
Do you hear anything resonating in your head when eating your piece of autumn bounty? Perhaps a satisfying crunch, a solid thwack, sounds of moistness, a slushy sound? Do you utter a sound upon eating your perfect, favorite piece of fruit? Such as…?
Does your piece of fruit have seeds or pits? Describe them: color, texture, form. How are they contained? Can you save and plant the seeds and there be more of the same without them hybridizing? Do the seeds have a distinctive odor, flavor, can you eat them, or are they poisonous? Does cooking change their toxicity or make them more palatable? Could you use them in a medicine pouch or for a craft project?
Now look at your hands. Are they sticky? Do you feel inclined to lick your fingers? Did the fruit stain them? What color? Did it leave your fingers or face feeling itchy? How does your tongue feel? How about the inside of your mouth? Are your teeth zinging from all the sweetness? Do you feel like burping?
A food’s color and form and perhaps outer texture were identifying characteristics which may have prompted clues housed in your memory to the selection of your perfect piece. You further used recall describing the sensuous aspects, for if this is a favorite fruit of perfection for you, the fruit’s flavor, its smell, texture upon eating it, sounds of eating it are all friendly memories that reacquaint you with why it’s a favorite and will give you insight into how it can be enhanced in the alchemical process of cooking.This exercise can be done with your choice of the perfect vegetable, as well.
So, why did I have you do this, taking an imaginative journey acquainting your senses with the food you truly enjoy eating, a food which you most likely already have or will eventually transform into aiding the regeneration of your body’s living tissue? Primarily I did it to entertain you with a type of imaginative journey, I enjoy traveling plus as a reminder of society’s loss of contact with the natural world, and the greater sense of dis-ease that studies have proven exists globally today. This loss also exists in the realm of healthy foods, the very foods we eat and our bodies process 24/7/365 and which nourish our very being.
My Perfect Favorite Fruit
Although it’s been many decades, I can vividly remember my favorite apple tree and apple, what it looks like, it’s flavor and smell. The tree grew in my grandparent’s back yard next to the dripping water faucet, the old-fashioned kind of faucet that you could never really quite turn off, providing moisture to the tree, a dog’s watering dish also frequented by the deer who and resident garter snake. The tree wasn’t all that thrifty as it was an old tree and usually had a small harvest. It was a late summer apple, among the first ready for picking with tender flesh which developed a bruise where it fell off the tree. It’s flavor was sweet, its flesh a creamy white and it smelled fruity yet a bit like a crabapple. It made a slushy sound when I bit into it.
Associated with my apple are the memories of my grandmother helping me to shake the tree so that the ones already weakened by having a worm in residence or being small and misshapen would fall. She explained to me those were always the first to ripen. They also tended to be sweet because the irritation from the worm or the malformation caused them to go through their maturation process earlier. And if one fell and developed a bruise, if eaten immediately, the bruise helped to disperse the fruit’s sweetness. Weird, I know. But it does seem to work with the late summer, non-storage apples. The deer know from their midnight raids under the tree eating the fallen fruits.
Of course, the tree’s sweetest apples were growing at its top, light golden with charming pink stripes turning even more golden and red where they received plenty of sunlight. If not picked by my uncles or my dad climbing on a ladder, these were shaken down later when truly ripe. It became a game of grabbing them mid air so they didn’t bounce on the ground and cause a bruise to form in their tender flesh. The bruised ones were put aside to be among the first used in making applesauce. I treasure the lessons learned under that tree.
My mother, grandmother and I used to make copious amounts of applesauce to can, and to make into Priscilla cakes or raisin cakes which became our Christmas fruit cakes and baked well before Thanksgiving. The raisin cake was made popular during WWII when there were shortages of eggs, milk and butter. We stuffed ours with dried and candied fruits and nuts. After it was slowly baked and cooled, we’d wrap it in a thin layer of brown paper to hold it together, tie it with thin white string and then cover it with a layer of flour sack cloth dipped in brandy. This was wrapped carefully around the parcel and re-wetted with brandy, not soaked, however. It would be further wrapped in waxed butcher paper and stored away in the cool corner to “ripen” and be ready to serve during the holiday season. Adding all the fruit and nuts made them heavy, but oh, so tasty without being cloyingly sweet. My mother often made the raisin cake throughout the year without the extra fruit and brandy to serve at social events.
Sensory Cooking Routine
I normally inspect my produce with the usual debug, clean and notice the blemishes/bruises routine. Then I go through a sensual inventory of its age, sweetness and tartness aspects, how I imagine it to combine with other flavors, textures. Would the addition of spices or herbs enhance its flavor or detract from it?
To me it’s not a piece of celery I look at, but a question: Is it part of the center spiral and therefore lighter in color and flavor or a stalk from the outer spiral which tend to be firmer, larger, darker, heavier-leafed, with more celery flavor? This makes a difference in a meal say of potato soup where I might want the flavor of the darker celery stalks to pep up an older batch of stored potatoes. I’d also add more onions and garlic to the recipe, possibly throwing in more curry and basil. If they were new potatoes and I wanted their buttery flavor to be highlighted, I’d use the inner celery stalks, a bit of sweet onion, less garlic and curry with a hint of dill and parsley to bring out the flavor and freshness of the newly-dug tubers.
First Recipe ~ With More to Come Next Time!
Let’s start with a simple, onion soup using the sweet Walla Walla or Vidalia varieties. You’ll need: coconut oil, butter, sweet onions, celery, dry basil, thyme and tarragon, curry powder, mustard powder, bay leaf pepper, salt and either a stock or nut milk. Of course, feel free to personalize it!
- Creamy Sweet Onion Soup
- 3-4 large sweet onions, quartered and sliced very thinly
- 3 stalks celery, sliced thinly
- 2 Tbs ea. butter and coconut oil (or olive, if you prefer)
- Saute onions and celery together in butter and coconut oil until absolutely melted and turning light tan. Watch carefully and keep it from getting too caramelized (unless you prefer it that way.)
- Stir in:
- 1 Tbs or more medium to hot salsa
- 1/2 tsp+ dried basil, thyme and tarragon
- 1/2 tsp+ curry powder (I prefer the muchi curry)
- 1/8 tsp+ mustard powder
- 1 Bay leaf
- Add 1/2 – 1 C of broth, nut milk or raw milk. (I use rice milk.)
- I just add enough nut milk to barely cover the onions while they simmer together for 15 minutes stirring frequently allowing them to meld and thicken. Now taste and add extra butter for a more buttery flavor, add additional salt, spices, etc. if you want. Stir well. Add more rice milk until just above the onions. Let it simmer for a while longer until thoroughly warmed up. If you add the moisture slowly, the onions seem to incorporate it, swelling and taking in the liquid’s sweetness or flavor. Stir well and taste again. If satisfied with the flavor, add just enough milk to keep it a thick soup. Of course, feel free to make a roux of butter, flour and milk to thicken it or even add kudzu or arrowroot and make a larger amount of soup but I like to keep it thick and rich without the additional thickeners. Makes 3-4 servings.
- Serve with warm garlic bread and lightly-grated pecorino romano cheese.
And the fall season is perfect for avocados in Hawaii as evidenced by this lovely one from a local farm stand in Kapoho, Big Island, HI.
Now until we meet again, think about the sensual aspects and pleasures of connecting with your food and join Alpine Lady next time for Musings in the Autumn Season: Tempting Recipes.
PS: Yes, I’ll have a recipe for my favorite guacamole, too!