Oven-roasted butternut squash destined for an autumn soup kettle.(Photo: Al Cooper)CONNECT>TWEET>LINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE
If I had to pick a favorite season of the year, it would definitely be autumn – or if you wish -- “fall.” I have known this about myself since my earliest youth. This meteorological preference became even more firmly implanted during the very formative years which circumscribed my coming of age on a Vermont hillside farm, where wood-cutting, garden-harvesting, meat-smoking and root-cellaring made my blood flow speed up and my heart beat faster. Everything from the cry of south-bound Canada geese flights overhead to the act of digging the year’s potatoes, pressing cider from piles of Northern Spy, Winesap and Golden Russet apples, gathering butter nuts from an abandoned hill-country roadside, and pushing a canoe through a watery forest of high-bush cranberries waiting to be raked from their waving stalks until they covered my feet in shiny crimson globes. Everything we did made so much sense it seemed to me that the very “goodness” of farm life should last forever. A life-changing war was still just beyond a horizon over which I could not yet see, but to my dying day I will be grateful-beyond-words that I was privileged to be born when and where I was, and to grow up in the embrace of a tradition-grounded family who lived and loved well.
Today with the coming of one more “end of summer” I can’t help but think back over all the not- always - gently falling years to the seeming magic of remembered times before my world changed. I yet find ways to resurrect at least the taste of happy yesterdays within the precincts of our kitchen where my enamel cast iron kettles have played host to a dozen dishes of autumn over-seen by kitchen angels who minister to souls such as mine.
One prized feel good treat has been old fashion CORN CHOWDER with the crunch of fresh-from-the-garden, cut-from-the-cob bi-color corn married to the rich creaminess of canned cream-style corn, minced onion, cubed chunks of firm potato, rough-cut pieces of celery and a bay leaf, mellowed by chicken broth and a pint of heavy cream or half-and-half. The addition of salt and pepper will finish the job, unless you choose to float a square of sweet butter on each bowl full. This is a true farm house chowder rich in flavor and history.
Another personal favorite is OVEN –ROASTED WINTER SQUASH SOUP which starts with a halved, seeded butternut squash slathered with honey and roasted, cut side-up with apple slices and onion chunks in a deep baking dish in a 350 degree oven for about one hour; cover with foil for the first half hour. To make the soup scrape out the squash flesh and combine with apples and onion and a cup of either chicken or vegetable broth in your soup kettle. Cook until well heated. Whir in a blender until well blended, adding more hot broth if necessary to achieve a good final finish. The east coast chef whose recipe inspired me to develop this autumn specialty would have added 2 or 3 tablespoons of Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon at some point.
A much-overlooked fall vegetable and root-cellar mainstay I love to work with is green cabbage, and so it seemed timely last week that I should add a thinly-shredded head of green cabbage to a soup kettle mix of chopped onions, sausage rounds, garlic, cooked white beans and vegetable broth. Hot bowls of CABBAGE, WHITE BEAN AND SAUSAGE SOUP need nothing more than a loaf of crusty bread to make a harvest-time meal complete. Oh! And the quart jar of refrigerator Dill Pickles we bottled in September was a perfect accompaniment!
If I had space left, I would tell you what followed my discovery of a just-picked batch of this years’ backyard okra. Remind me another day.
Email Al Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org