Fall is my favorite time of year. The air gets cooler and crisper. The leaves are changing. The farmer’s markets are overflowing. And to top it all off, it’s my wedding anniversary next week. That’s my bouquet at the top of the post. Still got it, still looking great, nine-years-later.
And despite Mabon being one of the lesser celebrated Pagan holidays, autumn is the second most popular season after spring and offers up lots of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy nature without the exhaustive heat of summer, nor the ice of winter, nor the rain of spring. In my opinion, it is the perfect season.
You can embrace the colors and decorate freely with dried flowers like the ones in my bouquet. Plus all the fall scents are hitting stores and restaurants, including Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which let’s face it, everyone loves, no matter how much they want to snob out about it.
It’s also a great time to begin embracing fire again. A fire is one of the greatest things we humans have and the art and beauty of fire are often forgotten in this modern world. It was the original social media, the first television, the first radio show, play, and book. Fires are where storytellers live and people gather and crisp autumn nights are the best time to start making them a tradition in your house.
This can be as big as a bonfire or as small as lighting a candle regularly. For us this means backyard campfires, beeswax candles, and when the weather permits, a fire in our hearth built with wood we split ourselves.
The other thing I love about early fall is watching nature hang on. There is still quite a bit of growing happening out there. Flowers are still blooming, kale, and parsnips, and cabbages, and winter squashes are just beginning to come into season, and many of our favorite fruits are at their peak. Fall is a great time to eat. Whether the cooler nights conjure up soups and stews, or the heat of the Indian Summer trudges along into the night giving us a few more weeks of grilling season, the food that we eat in fall is the most flavorful, richest, and nutritious food we will eat all year.
I got pregnant with my second son at the end of August. As many of you know, or will find out, pregnancy does some weird things to your taste buds. I remember that September, the parent association at the school I was working at held a staff appreciation brunch for all the employees of the school. They would put on this beautiful smorgasbord of food for all to enjoy, with two tables full of delectables. One such delicacy was a beet salad. So utterly simple in its construction, with its roasted beets, feta and walnuts, this salad was bursting with sweet, earthy goodness akin to no other food I had ever eaten. To my pregnant lips, this salad was ambrosia and I couldn’t get enough of it. That was the moment I fell in love with beets.
Beets are one of those vegetables that you either love or you hate. Everyone seems to have strong feelings when it comes to beets. And trying to convince a beet hater to try them again is like asking them to pick a clump of dirt from the garden and indulge. It is futile. Mostly.
The one thing this fall vegetable has going for it is its color. Beets are beautiful and enticing. Bleeding in hues from Magenta to Bittersweet, beets add a distinction to any dish that can lure even the most ardent beet hater in. As long as you don’t tell them they are there.
One of my favorite dishes to make this time of year is Fall Borscht. Now before you turn your nose up at it, I want you to pretend you know absolutely nothing about what you think Borscht is. Pretend I offered you a roasted root vegetable soup, slow simmered in a subtle, slightly salted, tomato broth, contrasted with cool sour cream and served with a hearty, grainy roll. You might like to try that, no? And imagine it was a day like today; a 93 degree Indian summer’s eve. You are hot, the air is humid. You feel sluggish and don’t particularly care to eat, but you would welcome something cool, flavorful, nutritious and simple. Sounds pretty good, right?
Both of these dishes are borscht. Served hot or cold, borscht is the perfect dish for early fall, when vegetables are at their prime and the weather doesn’t know what it is doing. It is light yet hearty, nutritious yet flavorful, simple yet complex. It is perfect.
I make mine one of two ways depending on the weather. If it is cool I serve it chunky and warm, if it is hot I serve it blended and cool.
- 2 T oil (of your choice)
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1.5 lbs beets, well scrubbed and diced or sliced, peels intact
- 2 large potatoes, scrubbed and diced, peels intact
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 5.5 cups vegetable stock
- 1/4 t dried dill
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 3 T honey
- 1/-4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 small head of red cabbage, shredded
- Sour cream or greek yogurt to garnish
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss all veg except cabbage in oil and lay out as evenly as possible on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, until just starting to brown.
- In a large, heavy pot, combine roasted vegetables, stock, dill, tomato paste, honey and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add the cabbage. Return to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are tender 20-40 minutes. Stir often.
- Serve hot and chunky with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt. OR, allow to cool, purée in a blender or in the pot with and immersion blender. Refrigerate until cold. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt.
The autumn equinox is a wonderful time to look to the past and reconnect with the world around us. I look at this as a time to embrace the earth and all the color and life it has to offer before it heads into hibernation and the blue, cool, silent blanket of winter comes to put it to sleep. Embrace the bugs that are still crawling, the flowers that are still blooming, the leaves that are falling and the food that is still growing.
Tonight I plan to pour myself a glass of whiskey and sit outside by the fire, wrapped in my wool shawl and listen to the crickets. I plan to snuggle close to my husband and allow the smoke to billow over us as the pretty sweet, dry and dying leaves smolder and burn and float up into the night.
Happy Fall everyone!
Still not on the beet train? Check out what else is In Season this Week courtesy of Eat the Seasons: