Nothing says fall like a winter squash, amirite? The vines up at Sea to Sky Farm yielded heavily this year, and before we left the farm the other evening after our interview, Chris loaded us up with a giant pile of squash in every autumnal color. Paprika red, yellow striped green, sunset orange, dusky green, and faded khaki with a golden yellow inside. We arranged them on the window seat, where they’ll last for months, if we don’t eat them first. Winter squash are excellent keepers, so we sometimes hoard them until the depths of winter. But in honor of the equinox, we thought it fitting to revisit this recipe that we made with the Empire Grade Purveyors a while back. The Purveyors and the Sky Farm both hail from Bonny Doon, so it was a fitting kind of alchemy to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox with this confluence of neighbors and vegetables. The tart that we feature in this week’s newsletter is a celebration in and of itself, a thing of beauty, made with simple ingredients that are elevated simply by virtue of the attention paid to them. So it is with almost everything; the more attention we pay to it, the more present we are with it, and the more beautiful (whole, complete) it becomes. Said another way, as we look more closely, we are able to perceive the inherent beauty more fully. Attention is a kind of prayer; some call it mindfulness, or being embodied, or being present in the moment. Some might just call it delicious. In any case, it’s a beautiful recipe, and we hope you find a reason to create and celebrate and appreciate the season with it. The Equinox marks another seasonal shift, a quarter-point in the turning year, when the length of day and night are, for a moment, perfectly balanced. Then the daylight starts to slip, tilting toward darkness, a little more each day. The swollen harvest begins to taper, the thirsty creeks await the rain. The squash waits, whole and subtle, glowing on the windowsill.
Outside, in the dappled shade of the orchard, the apples begin to ripen in earnest. They drop to the ground, a soft thud in the duff. when they fall. Before too many litter the ground, we gather them straight from the trees, because once they hit the earth, they become contaminated with bacteria that lead to off flavors in fermentation. We leave them to sit for a week in a cool dark place. We wait, and the stored apples begin to shine waxily, the cell walls softening just enough to allow more juice to flow out when bitten, or pressed. It’s cider pressing season, again. After the apples have rested for a week, (we call this process “sweating”) we grind them, cores and all, into an applesaucy pulp, called pomace. Then we press the pomace in a cider press, slowly, slowly; the slower we tighten the press, the more juice comes out of the fruit. All the empty carboys that we have been storing are trickle-filled with a rich dark juice, 3 and 5 and 6 gallons at a time. We plunk an airlock into the carboy and wait again, for weeks or months, until the cider has fermented. Another seasonal cycle, repeating annually. We pay attention, taking notes; what type were the apples, how tart, how tannic, how sweet? Every year is different, but we’ve gotten better at this, over the years, honed our processes until we have a petty good grip on how to make a cider we like. We often make new friends around this time of year; our own young trees don’t yield much, so we are often looking for laden trees whose owners might allow us to pick some apples. People, for the most part, are happy to see the fruit be used; the idea of wasting such sweetness is anathema, and often, rehoming excess fruit is an easy excuse to be generous.
Squash and apples, peppers and melons. The fall crops are seeded; kale and broccoli, chard and peas. The days are shortening, but there is enough sunlight left for fall crops planted now to grow in warmth and light for a while, before winter sets in. It’s a good time to tend the garden, to apply a layer of compost to beds that have housed the summer vegetables, or spread another layer of compost in preparation for winter rains. It’s good to be home in the Santa Cruz mountains, watching the season shift slowly, day by day, wondering what the approaching winter will bring. Before winter, though, the long days of waiting. A descending, in-between time. Leaves fall from the sycamores, fall from the maples; the buckeye are already almost bare. Once the apples finish, they’ll lose their leaves too. We’ll notice the changes, day by day, and honor them as best we can. With cider, with attention, with a tart that comes golden out of the oven.
By Jessica Tunis