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Credit to: Martha FitzSimon
Credit to: Martha FitzSimon

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fall and its jauntily worn scarves, changing colors, hot cider and rich pumpkin. But fall lacks commitment. That sweater we pull on Saturday morning to walk to the farm market will be tied at our waists as soon as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Caps, perched well above the ear, are worn more for fashion than warmth. And the crystalline blue sky, while crisp and clear, is far from cold.

If spring is the time to fall in love and summer meant for flings, then fall is for flirting. It is winter without the commitment. Fall apples are sweet but lack the sugar of winter confections. Roast pork and baked pumpkin are rich without delivering the stick-to-your-ribs heartiness of winter’s hours-long braises.

Saturday mid-morning, we return home from the farmer’s market to pack our food away quickly lured by the sound of feet scuffing through fallen leaves to head back outdoors into the sun. In the evening we settle for a simple meal, leaving the commitment of winter braises and baking for winter’s colder days.

So get in to the kitchen this fall and flirt. Skip the pie crust and slice apples for this quick crisp. In fact, be lazy and don’t even peel them, just remember to use tart ones for a more complex flavor. Roast a pork tenderloin or two crusted with a bit of ground fennel seed – it only takes 20 minutes – and scoop a little of this this pear butter, savory with shallot, rosemary and balsamic vinegar, onto each forkful. Make a pot of beet soup, hearty with caraway seed fried in rendered bacon fat. It’s quick enough to throw together on a Tuesday night. And cook pumpkin, lots and lots of it, sweet or savory, but always rich.

Then – after dinner – maybe do some cuddling. We can just pretend it’s already winter.

Credit: Jonathan Bardzik
Credit: Jonathan Bardzik

My Mom’s Moms Apple Crisp

From Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Ease

Serves 8

Sweet, soft, spiced apples with a thick crumble crust. The only way this gets better is when topped with homemade vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of fresh cream. This is the recipe Gram taught my Mom and the one Mom taught me.

Ingredients:

3 lbs tart apples – about 7-8 – Stayman, Empire and Macintosh are all good choices

2 tbs butter

Fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon or apple pie spice

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Peel, core and thickly slice apples.

Pile apples in a 9×9 deep baking dish. If you want more crust go for a shallower and wider dish, and double the recipe for the topping.

If the apples you are using seem dry top with a few pats of butter. If they seem too sweet, sprinkle with lemon juice.

Blend the remaining ingredients. Gram used a pastry blender. My Mom pulses them in a food processor until they come together.

Spread the topping over the apples. It will crumble a bit. No worries.

Bake the apple crisp for thirty minutes or until the apples are done. The apples should be super soft.

Serve hot or cold with or without cream.

Tip: I always double the crust recipe, and never leave off the cream.

Tip: Taste your apples. You want a tart, baking apple, sweeter than a Granny Smith, but not as sugary as a Pink Lady or Delicious. If the apples you bring home from the farm market are too sweet, just add a squeeze or two of lemon juice.

Credit: Jonathan Bardzik
Credit: Jonathan Bardzik

Savory Pear Butter

From Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Ease

Serves 6-8

This is pure fall. Sugary pears, rich balsamic vinegar, earthy rosemary, warmed by cardamom and nutmeg. This freezes well according to my friend Nancy. It never lasts that long in our house. This is wonderful with roasted meats and pairs beautifully with creamy blue cheeses like German-produced Cambozola.

Ingredients:

2 tbs butter

1 shallot, finely diced

1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp cardamom

1/8 tsp white pepper

5 medium Bartlett pears, chopped, about 2.5 cups

1 apple, like Honeycrisp or Macintosh, chopped

1 cup apple cider

1 tsp Balsamic vinegar

2 tsp chopped, fresh rosemary

Directions:

In a small sauté pan, melt butter over medium-low heat.

Add shallot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add nutmeg, cardamom and white pepper. Cook 30 seconds until fragrant.

Add pears, apples, and cider. Turn heat to medium and cook until very soft. 10-15 minutes.

Process mixture in food mill (see tip) or blender.

Return to pan with vinegar and rosemary. Cook an additional five minutes until thickened.

Season to taste with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice as needed.

Tip: If you use a food mill, you don’t have to peel the fruit. If you use a food processor you do. (You’re ordering a food mill on line right now, aren’t you?)

Credit: Matt Hocking
Credit: Matt Hocking

Hearty Beet Soup

From Seasons to Taste: Farm-fresh Joy for Kitchen and Table

Serves 6-8

This is Slavic: bold and earthy, a little rough around the edges; large chunks of beet served in a both flavored with smoky bacon and musty caraway. And, oh my gosh, is it delicious.

Ingredients:

3 slices thick-cut bacon

2 medium onions, diced

4 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

8 cups vegetable stock

2 tbs olive oil

1 tbs caraway seeds

2 tbs red miso paste

1 large carrot, finely diced

4 large beets, peeled and cut in a 1/2” dice

Cider vinegar

Butter

Directions:

Sauté bacon in a 6 quart stock pot. Remove bacon from pot, drain on paper towels. Roughly chop cooled bacon and reserve.

Add one onion to bacon fat and cook until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add stock, thyme springs and bay leaves. Simmer for 20 minutes.

In a 4 quart soup pot, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add remaining onion and cook until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add caraway and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add miso paste and cook 1 minute until fragrant.

Add carrot and beet and cook for 5-6 minutes.

Strain solids from stock. Add 6 cups of stock to the pot with the beets and carrots. Stir in chopped bacon. Simmer until vegetables are very soft, easily sliced with a knife – about 45 minutes.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, vinegar and butter. Add additional stock if needed.

Tip: The tough skins of beets require peeling. Carrots, however, depend on the condition of the skins. If the carrots look fresh, tender and bright, don’t bother. If the skins look dry, rough or bruised, then it’s worth the time to peel them.

Credit: Matt Hocking
Credit: Matt Hocking

Pumpkin (Not Potato) Salad

Serves 6

This eats like a potato salad — rich and creamy with the perfect kick from sweet, fruity Castelvetrano olives and bright, briny capers.

Ingredients:

6 cups pumpkin peeled and cut in 1” cubes

1 red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs grainy mustard

2 tbs maple syrup

1/3 cup Sherry vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup pitted, chopped Castelvetrano olives

1/4 cup chopped capers

1/2 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

Set steamer basket in a 3-4 quart sauce pot with water. Water should come to just below the basket.

Add pumpkin, tun heat to high and steam until pumpkin pieces can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife without splitting.

Transfer to a large bowl filled with half ice and half water (also known as an ice bath) to stop cooking and prevent pumpkin from getting mushy. Drain when cool.

Combine cooked pumpkin and onion in a large bowl.

Make dressing: sprinkle minced garlic with coarse salt and mash into a paste with the flat side of your knife. Whisk in mustard, maple syrup and Sherry vinegar. Season with pepper.

Drizzle in oil, while whisking, to form a creamy emulsion.

Toss pumpkin and onions with dressing. Add and toss through olives, capers and parsley.

Season to taste with more salt or pepper, and more mustard or vinegar if the salad needs a little kick.

Credit: Jonathan Bardzik
Credit: Jonathan Bardzik

Jonathan Bardzik is a DC-based storyteller, cook and author. Best known in the DC area for his weekly, live, farm-market cooking demonstrations with original recipes, Jonathan serves up farm-fresh seasonal food and entertainment at farm markets, private homes and corporate events around the country. Discover over 250 recipes and order signed copies of his cookbooks from JonathanBardzik.com. You can see Jonathan in action on his YouTube channel and satisfy that itch for some good foodporn on Facebook and Instagram.