I Love You, I Hate You… No, I Love You

I have a love/hate relationship with autumn. I love the cooler weather. I love the fact that I can now use my oven without turning the house into a sauna. As much as I love Vegas, I hate the fact that I am here and true autumn is elsewhere. I am melancholy and miss the east coast during the cool crisp mornings of October.

This year, I asked my friends back east (and let me clarify, “back east” means the northeast part of the country) to send me pics of the leaves, and while I appreciate it, and the images are lovely, it’s not the same as being there. If you have never lived on the east coast, or visited there in October, the sights are truly awe inspiring. The vistas will literally take your breath away. Does the term “riot of color” have any meaning for you? If so, then you can partially grasp what I am talking about. It has been nearly 20 years since I have seen The Leaves. Growing up in upstate New York, we always had the “leaf peepers” from The City (oh, and BTW there is only ONE city). They were a menace! Stopping in the middle of the street to take pics, getting lost, coming into our family store for directions and not buying so much as a cup of coffee. I never understood the fascination with the changing of the seasons until I didn’t have it. Folks who live in NYC don’t look at the Statue of Liberty the same way the rest of us do. Those living in St. Louis – and I used to – drive by the Arch without so much as a backward glance. (Moment of Truth – when I lived in Spain and went to Segovia to see one of the few remaining functioning ancient aqueducts in the world, I wondered if the locals took it for granted, or if they marveled daily). That’s the way I was about the leaves. Now I crave the visual, but more than that, I crave the smells.

Our property, 20 acres, backed onto an orchard. We used to walk through the woods, cross the stone wall, yes, a real one, and snitch apples from the trees. The orchard owners didn’t care – there were plenty to go around. John and I had been married a couple of years and he always sneered at me because I wouldn’t eat apples from the store. He said I was being foolish, that they tasted fine – remember, he grew up in NYC. The first time I took him to snitch apples and he ate one fresh off the tree, he understood and never gave me shit about it again. All too frequently I go to the grocers and want that fresh picked experience and it just isn’t there. The orchard has a SMELL in the fall, and it isn’t just the apples. There is something alchemical about the breakdown of everything as the trees get ready to “hibernate”. The bark and leaves smell different. Maybe it is the air temp that makes it all smell fresh and amazing, but I doubt it.

Yes, I know Gilcrease Farm is right around the corner from my house. Yes, I go there and pick my own fresh produce, but it just isn’t the same somehow. I am not sure if it is the variety of the apples, the fact that “civilization” has grown up around the farm or what, but it just doesn’t smell the same. Perhaps it is mental. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have to travel through a canopy of deciduous trees aflame with color to get there. I don’t know. I appreciate them being here in the Valley, but it doesn’t replace or compare to the memories of my youth.

Of course once all the apples were picked, we had to do SOMETHING with them, so apple crisp, cobblers and apple sauce were all made. The house smelled fantastic. It was almost ritualistic. Sister Janece and I often had mini bake offs and I will tell you, her apple crisp is better than mine, any day of the week. She had a gift for baking even as a young person and now she is a VERY accomplished baker. So now, what do I do to make my house smell “fall-ish”? My mind has turned from apples to other things. I braise beef shanks for hours with candy cap mushrooms, I make soup and stew, I bake bread. Is it a new tradition or a way to distance myself from what I know I can’t have? Either way the food is good and smells great…it’s not an orchard or the sweet, musty smell of leaves decaying, but it is my new autumnal smell.

Thanks to Sister Nancy and Friend Jenn for the gorgeous pics you are about to see. The orchard ones are from Nancy. And here is a TIP for you when buying apples: Flip the apple onto its top. If the part of the flower that made up the bottom is tightly closed it is good to buy. If you see a hole there, put it back. It’s probably been in cold storage and will be mealy and flavorless. The pic below is a GOOD example.

Next week? Gourds…?