Autumn time, and the air’s growing chilly. This morning, my breath puffed out in grey white clouds before me as I walked into school. Today, I wore an old, cashmere sweater, maroon and nubbed with holes under the arms, as I walked through the school day. Summer feels like a distant memory, a dream of some place warm. We’re in for it now.
But not to worry. Autumn brings those vivid red leaves laying crumpled in green grass, butternut squash roasted in the oven, the first taste of hot chocolate after not being able to contemplate it for months. And best of all, autumn brings the new crop of crisp apples.
Yesterday, Meri came over to help me cook again, after two weeks in Eastern Washington. Her job, recruiting high school students for a university here in Seattle, keeps her away from home (and me) for long weeks at a time. On Thursday, she leaves for three and a half weeks in Asia. So yesterday, we luxuriated in the day, listening to the rain on the roof, dancing to music when it felt right, and telling stories to each other all afternoon. And we made dish after dish after dish of great food, small nibbles and grand entrees, chicken stock and roast chicken, plus another pie plate full of plum crumble, since she hadn’t been here last week when I made it. I took pictures, and we gawked at the vivid images through the lens, when the food sat right there on the counter. You’ll see some, as the week progresses, because we deliberately made enough food for me to write up posts for a week. Just wait–you’ll want to make some of it right away.
But honestly, I think what we ate first tasted best. Meri opened a bag of food she had brought from Eastern Washington, and pulled out a large sack of apples for me. This is apple season, when hands pluck the fruit from the trees, then it lays flat in my hands only a couple of days later. I can still taste the dew on them, this time of year.
I can’t stand apples in April. I know that farms own expensive equipment to keep thousands of apples chilled and waiting to stock the vast grocery stores past autumn. But I refuse to eat apples out of season (and this year, I’m not eating any food out of its season). Apples in the spring taste mealy, a spongy nothingness against the teeth, a simulation of an apple, like a mirage that disappears as you step into it. I hate the taste of soggy apple flesh and skin that bruises when the teeth touch it. And there’s no faking it. Apples out of season are just bad.
But apples right now, grown east of the Cascades, amaze us all. Meri reached in for one of these (she couldn’t remember the name, but oh well) and held it out for me to see: yellow-green, with a faint blush of pink on one side. Small as the palm of her hand. Compact. Faintly gleaming. Meri told me, as she started to cut it up, that she had been at a farmers’ market in a small town just a few days before, and she had sampled every type of apple at each stand. These had been the best. I could hear the knife’s edge bite through, with a crisp chop, a resounding thwack, a satisying sound. And when Meri turned around, she handed me one slice. One perfect slice. I bit into it, then sighed. Sweet as honey, crisp as new money, faintly tangy, with enough bite to remind me again what apples should taste like. Ahhhh.
We talked about the apple’s glories, as we ate a few slices, and the sunlight emerged to filter down through the skylights. But then, I remembered my latest food find, what I had been eager to share with my friend: chestnut spread with cocoa and rum.
Made by Radici, from Tuscany, this heavenly delectable is imported to the US by Ritrovo, a company in Seattle. I’ve just started seeing these products around the city, at Whole Foods and Metro Market and my favorite new restaurant, Vios. (More on this place later.) They have artichoke hearts so fat and gold that I don’t want to use them in recipes at all, just dangle them above my mouth and slowly let them slither in. Clear jars hold gorgeous white bean appetizers, quince jam, and black truffle salt. I have only just started to discover the bevy of beauties this company sells.
But with the apples, the chestnut spread. It’s a rich, dark chocolate, with the autumnal bite of chestnuts, then a big wave of rum. And it’s smooth, spreadable, like Nutella. But I have to say, it kicks Nutella’s ass. We dipped small slices of apple into the wide-mouthed jar, then popped them in our mouths. At the same time, as though we were coordinating our responses, we looked at each other and moaned, then hmmmmed deeper, then groaned. The layers are indescribable. You’re just going to have to try it.
We had three more slices each.
And then we filled a saucer with more slices of apples, and lay out rounds of goat cheese, with garlic and herbs. Meri’s the one who remembered the chestnut honey, which resonated with the chestnut spread still lingering on our teeth. So we patted the cheese onto our perfect apple slices, then dipped them in the honey. And we stopped talking for awhile.
Over and over again, I’m learning this: fresh, in season, simple tastes is all I need. Nothing more fancy need apply.
So, at the risk of sounding cliche (I am a teacher after all, and I’m writing about apples), I’ll take a small, just-picked apple all the days that I can have one.
Oh, and a smidge of chestnut with cocoa and rum, as well.