Aren’t we lucky to live in New England in the fall? The air is crisp. The foliage is splendid. And then there’s the food. Can I interest you in another Brussels sprout latte?
Summer was such a confusing time. There were so many options: tomatoes, corn, eggplant. Fall is soothing. Now, at last, our possibilities have been narrowed to the pinpoint at the end of a tunnel. Now, at last, we have nothing but butternut squash. It is great roasted simply, with olive oil and salt. It makes for a delightful soup. Have you had butternut squash with pasta, brown butter, and sage? Yes, you have, a million times, because it is that good. Puree the squash for a delectable frosting to adorn that special someone’s birthday cake. Use any leftovers for a healing facial mask. Butternut squash is excellent for the pores and absolutely has antiaging properties. Trust me.
Butternut squash is almost always at hand. If you can’t find one, in a pinch you can grab a decorative gourd off your neighbor’s front stoop. Just bite into it right there on the street. Preferably you are wearing a ratty bathrobe and no shoes at the time. Try yelling something seasonal, like “Yankees suck!,” while brandishing the gourd, just to see what happens.
We also have Brussels sprouts. I don’t know how familiar you are with the law, but if the answer is “very familiar,” you are probably aware that it is illegal to serve food in New England between the months of September and April without including at least one Brussels sprout. It used to be that no one liked this vegetable, but it turns out we were just cooking it wrong. If you’ve been slow to get on the Brussels wagon, a good thing to do is prepare them with bacon. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, halve your sprouts, and wrap each half in one to two slices of bacon. Then bake until the bacon is crisp. I think with this recipe you will finally understand what all the fuss is about Brussels sprouts. If not, I can’t help you, and you’ll need to move to another part of the country immediately.
Kale is how New Englanders pretend to eat salad in the fall. To tenderize it, you’ll want to try massaging it with lemon juice and coarse salt while playing it Schubert’s “Winterreise” and burning an Autumn Leaves Yankee Candle. After 20 minutes or so of hard manual labor, you should almost be able to chew it.
Then there are the white roots: turnips (bitter), parsnips (weird). “Eat the rainbow,” nutritionists tell you, and around here that’s easy enough if you reenvision it as more of a tricolor arc that is orange and white and green, which is the Irish flag, basically. This is good, because we are all at least a little bit Irish around here.
Walk right past all that unseasonal, imported asparagus, corn, and zucchini displayed temptingly in the produce aisle. You’re not a monster. In California right now, tree boughs bend heavy with Meyer lemons and avocados in the golden light. So what? Our soil is rocky and acidic, like our hearts; we enjoy four distinct seasons, even if the good ones last only about 48 hours. We have apples and, by November, perhaps just a light case of the scurvy.
It would not be fall in New England without the apples. Are you on a bus right now with 40 or so cacophonous grade-schoolers, chaperoning a field trip to an orchard? You are if you’re a parent in New England. You will come home with seven large tote bags filled with Cortlands, Macs, and Macouns. The best thing to do is throw them all into a slow cooker whole. Don’t even wash them. By tomorrow morning, your home will be filled with a wonderful aroma, and you will have so much applesauce. Just so, so much applesauce. Have an applesauce party. Serve your family an all-applesauce dinner. It’s Applesauce Night chez vous! They will love it. If you have leftovers, I recommend thinning them down, then adding 1 tablespoon of mulling spices, a few cinnamon sticks, and a large bottle of Fireball. Do not consume before chaperoning your next field trip to an orchard. Well, if you must.
Where there are apples, there are cider doughnuts. Eat them warm from a paper sack, licking cinnamon sugar from your fingertips. These are truly the best fall treat. Candy corn is the worst; don’t even argue with me. In between there is only a wilderness of pumpkin spice. First came Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh. Then came Basic. It’s in our baked goods. It’s in our coffee. It’s in our beer. I recommend adding it to a turkey brine. Pumpkin spice mashed potatoes, pumpkin spice stuffing, and pumpkin spice gravy all have a place on the Thanksgiving table. It’s New England tradition after all.
So cover up those grills before the snow does, and wave goodbye to the surfside lobster rolls in your rearview mirror. Fall is here, with all of its wonderful flavors. Meet you for a Brussels sprout latte, just as soon as I find my way out of this corn maze.