Every evening the night comes sooner to darken the windows outside the house. Equinox, balanced on a cusp, in a changing time. The old traditions hold, new ones are formed, the erosion and deposition as natural as the layers revealed in the local sandstone, or the annotated scrawls on yellowed notecards, made by a grandmothers’ hand. The rainy season has not yet come, but it seems more possible, somehow, in the cold snap of the morning air, or the way the yellow alder leaves drift down in slow golden flurries. It’s a season of ghosts and ancestors, marigolds, quince and fat orange pumpkins. Time to tear out the tomato vines, shell the dry beans from their pods, plant brassica, spread mulch. We ready our nests for winter, tuck the last of the summer away in jars, beneath brine, on pantry shelves.
Outside the window, the quince tree is wafting scent. The lumpy, humble shape of the fruits belie the delicacy of their flavor. A strange fruit, the quince, inedible without cooking, but prized for long generations for its thick, pectin-rich flesh, rich flavor, and the indescribable scent that is its most notable characteristic. Bring a fruit inside, set it on the counter, and let it slowly steep into the air; natures’ first room freshener. Or make this recipe, and preserve it, just a little longer.
The winter squash is another crop that has been with us a long time. Unlike the more ephemeral summer fruits, the onset of Squash Season is not generally celebrated with the fanfare reserved for, say, tomatoes, or watermelon. Still, the winter squash remain culinary favorites; if not the stars of the show, they are a reliable backbone. Like the drummer (or is it the bass player?) in a band, they hold it all together, the disparate dishes and flavors unified under their subtle, sturdy influence. This ferment takes the reliable winter squash to places we may not expect it to go. And yet, once we get there, we wonder why it took us so long.
There’s something to be said for the giant pumpkins, the sheer impressiveness of their size, their mass, the strength it takes to lift them. They make amazing jack-o-lanterns, win prizes at the state fair. Yet impressive as they may be, the sweeter fruit is more often to be found in the smaller varieties of pumpkin. "Sugar Pie" is not the biggest pumpkin you’ll ever see, but darn if she isn’t the tastiest. The prolific vines often bear multiple fruits; save some for next month, and the requisite pies, but set just a couple aside for this tangental, transcendental pickle.
Have we saved the best for last? So hard to say. This not a preserve; rather the opposite, in fact, as this cake did not last long at all, once we brought ourselves to slice into it. And while this Ginger Carrot Kraut cake can be made the traditional way, in a pair of spring-form pans, the fabulous skull-mold really brings it to a whole new level of awesome. Yeah. We made cake shaped like a skull, and decorated it like the finest Mexican Talavera, with flower petals that grew and flourished amidst the vegetables. In this tradition that we borrow from, the skull is not reminiscent of loss but of celebration; not mourning, but remembrance. We leave you with these thoughts, and this recipe, as we enter the autumn of the year.
This stainless steel jam pan will have you making delicious jam in no time. Includes easy grip handle, measuring marks, encapsulated base, pouring lip. It is perfect for making jams, jellies, chutneys, stews and stocks. This jam pan is used in the Membrillo recipe featured in this edition of the Journal.