Harvest to table


One thing I realized about living in the country is that the seasons seem more pronounced than they do in the city. It’s as though they flow into each other in front of my eyes. 

Winter is quiet and the world upstate is often blanketed in snow. It can be brutally cold, and the skies a molten grey, or it can be bright blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds above. 

The spring approaches slowly, taking its time. Sometimes it doesn’t warm up until late April, yet the crocuses, daffodils, chives and mint pop through the soil regardless. Eventually, the time for planting arrives and there is color everywhere. Flowers bloom and fruits and vegetables hang heavily from vines and trees, waiting to ripen. 

Summer is short in the Catskills, with July being the warmest month. This past summer it rained so often that our driveway became slushy with mud and the lawn never dried. 

For a short period, it was terribly hot and humid; then August arrived and the temps rarely hit 80. A strange summer, indeed!

And then comes the fall. Haerfest, from the Old English, is the word for autumn. This season is the culmination of months of hard work planting, watering and fertilizing the fields. It signifies a time of ritual, abundance and reaping (gathering of the crops). We can revel in the clean crisp air, brilliant blue skies and the turning of the leaves on the trees from green to gold, ochre, orange and crimson.

The fruits and vegetables of fall differ greatly from those of other seasons. Many are heartier and sturdier, such as the world of winter squash. There are over a dozen types and they benefit most from roasting and baking, but can also be steamed or cooked in water or broth with spices and pulverized into delectable soups.

There is the orange-fleshed acorn squash with deep green and gold skin; cream-colored butternut; pale green (or red) kabocha squash with sweet, dense flesh; delicata squash indicated by its pale yellow skin with green striping; sugar pumpkin; and spaghetti squash, whose flesh is separated after cooking into thin spaghetti-like strands. 

Forget about buying grapes in the supermarket when you can visit local farmers’ markets in the fall and see the variety available of these classic, ancient fruits. Most are seedless and crisp, with thin skins and juicy, pulpy flesh. They come in hues of dark purple-black, crimson red, pale green and violet. A big clump is a beautiful sight placed on a cheese plate along with crunchy crackers or toasted baguette slices. I have even made a chicken dish baked with shallots and small clusters of grapes. When warm, the latter pop in the mouth and ooze their sweet juices.

Dozens of types of apples are in abundance at the greenmarkets in fall, as is that oft-forgotten fruit, the pear. A crisp pear, with its unusual ever-so-slightly grainy texture and sweet interior, is not to be missed. 

They vary in shape, color and taste. There are bell-shaped Bartletts, golden-brown Bosc, green and ruddy red Comice, and pale green or rich, red Anjou, which is more of a winter fruit. 

Other fall crops are beets, carrots, green beans, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Most important, let’s not leave out pumpkins. When fully ripe they have a firm rind and a robust color throughout. I particularly find white pumpkins striking. 

There are many varieties and sizes, and I like to adorn my front porch with a few of them alongside a bunch of curiously shaped gourds, dappled with all manner of autumnal colors. 

Every fall and into winter I make soups utilizing myriad harvest vegetables. But my favorite way of eating them is oven-roasting at a high temperature, tossed with good extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Oven-roasting makes everything taste better, deeper and sweeter, as the sugars caramelize.

I offer you two recipes to celebrate the autumn harvest. One is a casserole of chunks of sweet potatoes and pears with spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg—a dish that would look and be perfect on the Thanksgiving table. 

The other is simple, but my favorite: roasted broccoli florets adorned with both lemon zest and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Baked sweet potatoes and pear with maple syrup and cream
Baked sweet potatoes and pear with maple syrup and cream
Oven-roasted broccoli with lemon zest and Parmesan
Oven-roasted broccoli with lemon zest and Parmesan

Recipe, Fall, seasonal fruit and vegetables


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