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September 10–0ctober 20
GONE is summer's sweltering heat. Labor Day is like a signal for the start of autumn schooling, for lawn mowers to vanish, and for rakes and wheelbarrows to appear. The scent of wood-burning fires drifts on the air, and the step of life seems somehow more brisk and snappy. We may relax a few days in the bright warm sun of St. Luke's Little Summer (October 18—21) or during spells of Indian Summer.
Strange idea this Indian Summer. The American Indian, from whom it must have gained its name, undoubtedly knew it as we do—a sudden, surprising, warm spell in September, October, or even November. Traditionally, it almost falls into winter, running from about November 13 on for some two weeks. More often that period is riddled with such happenings as the freeze-over of lakes and rivers, good sleighing in northern states, and the likelihood that at least some snow will be around in almost any year toward the latter part of the month.
On the other hand, New England's finest weather, unexcelled anywhere in the world, is to be enjoyed during October's first three weeks. As a rule, nineteen of these twenty-one days will be cool at night, warm during the day, and colored, of course, with the reds of the turned maples, the yellows of the birch and beech, with an intermixture of all sorts of different hues from other kinds of trees. This is when Indian Summer should be—not the later November date, or any earlier one when the mists of summer may yet be upon us. But who is to argue with tradition? Let us take, regardless of what the calendar says, our fall as it comes. Life is hard by the yard, someone has said, but it's a cinch by the inch.
What could be easier to take than a fall foliage tour into the countryside at this time of year ? Or, for that matter, several of them? With the foliage's beauty gradually reaching its height from about September 20 on, by varying one's trips in altitude as well as direction, one may very well catch many different stages of it in one trip—and with several trips, the last one over Columbus Day, you are bound to have caught the peak of autumn coloring.
In places other than New England where foliage colors are not so brilliant or extreme, about September 24 is what is known as Harvest Home Day or, as they call it in Scotland, the "Kirn" or "Mell Supper." Such a day is announced by each farmer when he is satisfied his own particular harvest is in. It is then he passes the word around among his neighbors to come and join him in his feast. With us, no invitation is really necessary. For roadside stands quickly announce when our farmers are ready.
As a novelty some may wish to diversify early fall trips by including one to the coast of Maine, as well as one to Cape Cod. In the case of the former, the contrast of colored maples against the sea will be one you will not forget in a hurry. Pick up some of that native seaweed called dulse while you are about it. Saints of old, you know, lived for years on just this dulse, bread, and water. We have chewed faithfully on the weed from time to time, and must confess that neither its nutritional value nor even its holier aspects held any attraction.
During the Cape Cod trip there will be the marvelous fall coloring of the cranberry bogs to look forward to—as well as the cranberries themselves. These will be in harvest around October 1.
On the way there, however, someone is sure to bring up the subject of hurricanes. And true it is that Nature, getting ready for fall, mixes some mighty curious brews. Gathering up, as she does, summer's excess heat and transferring it overhead to the tropics in ways we don't entirely understand, she sets up a backlash from the tropics of the wind, rain, and warmth we have come to call the hurricane. Perhaps this is because the tropics can't digest all this heat and mugginess of which we have been relieved. We don't know—and nobody else does either. Yet the phenomenon is unforgettable.
There is that day or two of yellow lull. Nothing stirs, not even a leaf. The dog's asleep, so is the hired man, and so are all the children and the birds—everything.
Meanwhile, a seemingly calm sea is charging the whole coast line with the thunder of crashing breakers—a dire warning of the roar and destruction of wind and waves to come.
The experts tell us we've had enough hurricanes here in the past decade or two to last us for another hundred years. Except for nostalgic purposes, we may as well forget them and get on with our enjoyment of the Cape and its colors on the bogs.
The full moon nearest the fall equinox (usually September 21) is the Harvest Moon. No other moon stays with us for so long to brighten evening and night in field and forest, nor does any other moon seem as large as this one when it is first full over the horizon.
No one is so unromantic that he or she will not thrill to an outdoor after dinner excursion of some kind under this moon—in the pine grove, along the beach, up a mountain path, along a lake or river shore.
As September moves into October, we must bid farewell to jacketless and sweaterless days and evenings. The first frosts have come. Darling St. Francis, lover of animals and birds as well as the poor, will be kicking up one of his famous line storms around the fourth of October. Just why these line storms are considered the lashes of St. Francis, tradition does not tell us. Perhaps the good saint is angered, as many are, at the coming of cold weather. Even the term "line storm" itself is not usually understood in many places. Old salts will tell you it means a storm that follows the direction or path of a latitude marker, like the fortieth parallel, into the shore from the sea. However, there is no mistaking it when it does come, and most boat-owners have learned to bring their boats ashore long before its appearance. Many a youthful sailor who has kept his boat out for long enough to test its mettle in this sea and wind has learned how the wind seems heavier in a boat at this time of year, and the waves dull monsters which will not give way to any prow. Seagulls and shore birds will flee before it to inland marshes or ponds. When it is over, the wind will have swung, counterclockwise, around into the cold northwest. It has always been remarked that a northwest wind is "never long in debt" to one from any other point of the compass.
Ever watch these early fall frosts along the bank of a pond or where new soil has been tamped down in a lawn ? From what was a flat plain, the freezing of this topsoil makes thousands of tiny islands of ice. Here and there tiny crevasses shoot down into the warmer earth below. So indeed it must be with us any time after the middle of September—the tiny pores of our bodies separated and detached by the change in temperature into an exaggerated topographical map of gooseflesh. Unlike the soil, we tingle with the effects —our blood becomes enlivened in our veins, rushes about even as the animals do on the early morning lawns. We seem opened up, more aware of life.
These weeks are ones in which the surface of the ground is giving off heat as well as dampness. One notices this in mists along the road at dawn as well as dusk. It is easy to imagine all sorts of ghosts and headless horsemen spiraling up into the day or night from mill ponds as well as lakes.
Now some of the most fascinating of permanent table centerpieces are to be gathered. Grasses, goldenrod, ferns, milkweed pods, thistles—the list is endless—have turned a silvery gray, as if painted by these fall mists. The forms and parts are all there with only the reds and yellows and blues gone from them. Some country people will color these stalks and tendrils by dipping them in a dye or paint to match the colors in their houses. Others will not venture to pluck them from their native habitat but take the handsome wide landscape of nature in this state as the only painting for their mind's eye.
And so, too, we think we prefer to see this autumn coming handsomely to its gray and silvery end. How many cocoons have been left in it—how many of its summer guests have by now flown south—is anybody's guess. Perhaps the bluejays, chickadees, grackles, and other winter birds have come back to enjoy its store of seeds.
Most of all, there is practically nothing in the landscape now that will detract from the graceful outline of the majestic elms and oaks and beeches and maples. There they stand, as pure in form as Venus herself, and, in their way, fully as beautiful—testaments to beauty. Our flowers have gone, our colors, our birds—and we have cleaned the ground of everything that will keep us during the fall and winter.
Steadfastly one day we notice in the north that all has become dark and threatening. It will only be wind, we confidently tell ourselves, a gustiness for a little while—and then all will be warm and blue and sunny again. It is only when the dark cloud becomes even thicker and the first real ground cover of snow is spewed from it that we turn to these, our friends the trees, to know the solid companionship they will mean to us in the months ahead. The wild rhythm of the dance of their branches against the sullen fall sky is indeed the pattern of life itself—even as the tiny buds, if you examine some of them closely, are already spearheading for spring.
* * *
Food, as we know, has its own eternal relationship with the seasons and their many weathers. These determine when plants will be ripe enough for harvesting, and they also determine whether we should eat more or less of this kind of food or that, in direct relation to the season's temperatures and the activities that it permits or requires.
As the days of September grow cooler, and those of October become crisp, our farms and gardens yield vegetables that call for a hearty serving companion such as a steak, a roast, or a chicken. Cranberries, squash, and pumpkin—their shades of gold and crimson derive from the same brilliant palette of Nature as those of the autumn foliage. So it is that the thrill of swinging around a curve in the road into a burst of leafy color can alternate with the sighting of a roadside stand laden down with its share of the Yankee harvest.
You'll come home, at last, with vegetables only hours away from the fields where they were grown—and with appetites sharpened by the seasonal coolness. Unloading the car, you'll suddenly wonder what led you to buy so much and how in the world you'll be able to use everything before it spoils. The answer to the first question is that the produce looked so beautiful and delicious, nobody could be expected to resist. To the second question there are many mouth-watering answers.
2 cups sifted flour 4 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons shortening ¾ cup milk 2 tablespoons melted butter cranberry sauce
Sift dry ingredients, work in shortening, and add milk. Roll out, cut to make two layers for 8-inch pan. Place one layer in pan, spread with melted butter, cover with second layer. Bake in hot oven (425°) about 20 minutes. Place cranberry sauce between layers and on top. Serve hot with whipped cream. Serves 4.
2 cups sifted flour 3 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 4 tablespoons shortening 2/3 cup milk 2 tablespoons melted butter 2 cups cranberry sauce drained of juice
Sift dry ingredients together and cut in shortening. Add milk and stir until mixture forms a soft dough. Roll out on lightly floured board to ¼-inch thickness. Brush with melted butter and cover with cranberries. Roll up like jelly roll. Place seam side down on buttered pan and bake in hot oven (425°) 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with hard sauce. Serves 4.
1 quart vanilla ice cream 2 cups whole cranberry sauce shredded coconut
Roll balls of vanilla ice cream in shredded coconut. Spoon cranberry sauce over each snowball and serve. Serves 6.
1 pound cranberries 1½ cups sugar 2 tablespoons flour ¼ teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons water 1 tablespoon melted butter 1 8-inch shell and pie crust
Chop cranberries and mix with remaining ingredients. Fill pie plate lined with pastry, and arrange strips of pie crust crisscross over the top. Bake in a moderate oven (350°) for 45 to 50 minutes.
Cranberry Meringue Pie
1¾ cups sugar ¾ cup water 1 pound cranberries 4 eggs, separated 2 tablespoons flour ¼ teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon vanilla 4 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 17-inch baked pie shell
Boil sugar and water for 5 minutes. Add cranberries, cook until skins pop open. Beat egg yolks with flour and salt, pour cranberries over mixture. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add butter and vanilla. Cool. Fill pie shell, top with meringue of whipped egg whites and confectioners' sugar. Brown in slow oven (300°) 15 minutes.
Steamed Cranberry Pudding
1 cup sifted flour 2 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt ½ cup bread crumbs ½ cup brown sugar 2/3 cup finely chopped suet 1 cup cranberries, chopped cup milk
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine bread crumbs, sugar, suet, and cranberries with milk. Add flour mixture. Pour into greased mold, filling only two-thirds full. Cover closely. Place mold on rack in kettle over 1 inch of boiling water. Steam for 2 hours, using high heat at the beginning, and as the steam escapes, lowering the heat for the balance of cooking. Serves 4.
Cranberry Ham Slices
3 cups cranberries 1½ cups strained honey 2 slices ham (¾ to 1 inch thick) 2 tablespoons whole cloves
Mix cranberries and honey. Trim ham fat. Place one slice ham in baking dish and cover with cranberry and honey mixture. Top with second slice and cover with remaining cranberry mixture. Stick whole cloves around edge of ham slices, bake in moderate oven (350°) until tender, about 1½ hours. Baste occasionally with liquid in dish. Serves 4.
Cranberry juice is a delightful change as the before-breakfast drink. It also gives additional color and flavor to party punches. Cranberry sauce is delicious with ham, and not to serve it with chicken and turkey is a plain violation of natural law.
4 cups cranberries 2 cups water 2 cups sugar
Boil water and sugar for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and cook gently, uncovered, without stirring, until thick. Skim. Chill. Serves 8.
2 cups cranberries 1½ cups sugar
Wash cranberries; drain. Put in baking dish. Sprinkle sugar over berries. Cover. Bake in moderate oven (350°) for one hour. Stir once or twice while baking. Chill. Serves 6.
Members of the gourd family will be found contributing beauty and interest to most of the roadside displays. Remarkable, versatile, and sometimes rather eccentric vegetables, they develop every shade of color from pale yellow to brilliant scarlet, and show a unique protean gift, evolving shapes that range from the beautiful to the weird to the humorous. Egocentric gourds with an apparent hankering for fame have more than once appeared in Ripley's "Believe It or Not."
The inedible gourds sell by the millions to people who carry them off for use as ornaments on mantelpiece or hearth, or to be festooned in formations wherever their shapes and colors add to the decorative scheme.
Yankees have always turned these inedible gourds to good use, hollowing them out for use as bottles or vases, or splitting them in half to make excellent scoops. Give the Yankees credit for knowing a good thing when they saw it, but not for invention in this particular case, because gourds have been used as vessels since the most ancient times, and have lent their artistic shapes ("fair attitude!") to other vessels as one can see by even a casual glance at an Egyptian vase or Grecian urn.
Their cousins of the squash branch of the family are equally pleasing to look at, but their good looks are transient; because they make delicious food, their beauty is quickly immolated on the altar of appetite.
Most varieties of squash are delicious when simply boiled in salted water for about thirty minutes, then mashed and seasoned with butter, salt, and pepper. Other ways of preparing it vary the flavor slightly and contribute to menu variety.
Cut Hubbard squash into 2-inch pieces. Remove seeds and strings. Place in pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Dot with butter. Cook covered in moderate oven (375°) for half hour. Uncover and cook another half hour, or until tender. Serve the squash in its shell, adding additional butter. Or remove squash from shell, mash, add additional butter, and season to taste.
Toasted Squash Seeds
2 cups squash seeds, unwashed 1½ tablespoons melted butter 1½ teaspoons salt
Mix seeds with butter and salt and spread out in shallow pan. Bake in slow oven (275°) until brown, stirring from time to time.
Pumpkin seeds may be toasted in the same way.
Excerpted from Old-Time New England Cookbook by Duncan MacDonald, Robb Sagendorph. Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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