The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

If I had lived on a farm in the days or yore, I would’ve lived in savoury anticipation of harvest season. In the pale sun of late morning, after breakfast, I would put on my warm wool sweater which I had knit last spring (in this history, I can knit, too) and my muddy boots to tramp out to my garden to collect ripe squash, onions, and firm, winy apples for a big farm lunch. The air is crisp and clean and smells like earth as I dig up some potatoes and start thinking about all the canning that needs to be done and the root cellar which I’ll soon fill. This morning’s bread is ready to go in the oven. Must think about starting the Christmas cake soon.

I feel I can make this definitive alternate-history prediction because of the way I look forward to fall and its vegetable bounty nowadays. There are certain recipes that I don’t make on purpose the rest of the year because if it’s not fall enough outside, they just don’t taste as good. It’s kind of like Christmas cookies, I guess- one could make them in July, but it wouldn’t be the same, wouldn’t be as special. My fall-only menu includes pretty much anything with butternut squash, rutabaga, turnips, shepherd’s pie, any kind of really dense and sticky dessert, and heavy, hearty casseroles. The weather all but demands it and as a result, I think I eat more during fall than any other time of the year, save Christmas. How can I resist? Not only does the kitchen now feel cozier for the oven, rather than stiflingly hot, the root vegetables are at their peak, the corn is here, the apples are dropping, and the mushrooms are at their musty best.

cimg7136.jpg O, Mushooms! Nothing is more quintessentially fall than mushrooms. Wrinkly, dark, musty and aromatic, I will always favour a recipe in which they are involved. Divine in an omelette, earthy in a stew, dense in a salad; even a portebello can effectively masquerade as the patty in a burger. And my mushroom stems never go to waste as Sammy happily snarfs them up when offered.

On one of our most recent sojourns to the Saturday market, we came upon the an irresistible bargain on chanterelle mushrooms at Far West Fungi. These guys know their way around the mushroom, but I usually feel a little intimidated by the staff, like if I were to ask a question about a type of mushroom, the answer would be preceded with a mild snort of derision as if to say “what- you mean you don’t know?” This time, however, I didn’t hestitate approach the counter and hand over the $5 for an orangey, little basket of these usually prohibitively expensive variety. Immediately, I began thinking that I would use them in an omelette following a Thomas Keller recipe I saw online somewhere. Unfortunately, search though I might, I couldn’t find it again and I don’t yet own The French Laundry Cookbook. cimg7152.jpgHowever, I fortuitously connected with another intriguing recipe in Nigella’s book: Mushroom Ragout. Now this, was going to be outstanding because truly, ragout is all that is fall. This recipe – my mouth waters just thinking about it – is all about wild mushrooms and this is how I chose to honour the chanterelles. Sautéed in butter and herbs, deglazed with white wine, thickened with a little flour, some onions and parsley and then sloppily served over soft, polenta with parmesan. The mushroom were just this side of firm and could not have been better presented or more flavourfully offered than in such a ragout. I should’ve garnished the bowls with newly fallen leaves.