Sunday, September 6, 2009
From Blueberries to Apples
Ah, Labor Day. It’s a weekend that comes every year with the most bittersweet sentiments. On the one hand we never believe that our precious months of summer have already passed us by. Schools are back in session, summer toys are put away for the season, and tank tops are swapped out for cozy sweatshirts. How long do tans last again?
On the other hand, there is the excitement of fall on the horizon, which can be one of the most pleasant and beautiful seasons of the year, especially in New England. From the picturesque landscapes of foliage to the excitement of rooting on your favorite NFL team, there are more ways than one to tell that the seasonal transition is underway. Today though, I especially felt this transition through one of the most powerful dictators of change in the calendar year (at least in my opinion): food. Today, a muffin and a crisp turned out to be more than a sum of their ingredients.
As I pulled out the bag of frozen blueberries from our freezer this morning, I couldn’t help but pop a few of them in my mouth before I folded them into the muffin batter. They slowly melted away and the sweetness you get only from summer picked Maine blueberries overtook my taste buds. I remembered the day Nini, Lina, and I went out to pick them clearly. It was the biggest triple-H week of the summer; a Hot Hazy and Humid that made the air thick and my hair a lovely ball of frizz. It didn’t stop us from picking over 15 pounds of blueberries though. The plump berries were dripping off of their branches just as the sweat dripped from our brows, trying to find some way to bear the summer sun. We survived the elements though, and drove home happy with our bushels of blue gems. Some were eaten immediately and some we packed away in the freezer so we could savor the fruits of our labor for as long as possible.
Right after our picking session I made these ‘Sunny Morning Muffins’ for the first time, mainly because I could easily add blueberries into the recipe. They were received with approving nods from the judgment panel of aunties and cousins during our annual sleepover in Rockport. Part of their success is that they encapsulate the tastes of summer so well from the pieces of strawberries and blueberries…and paired with mashed banana and toasted walnuts, they make one heck of an addition to the breakfast line-up. Seeing that now it was Labor Day weekend and a big crew was up for the holiday, I woke up today and thought that these would be a nice treat to have around. I could feel their warmth from the oven as I balanced half of the muffins down to the dock in my arms. We sat next to the water and enjoyed each and every tasty, whole-grain crumb. The sun was hot, the sky was clear, we were sprawled on the dock…but something was different. No one was swimming, the air was dry, there was talk of taking boats out of the water…a scene you would not find in the typical Maine day in, say, the middle of July, when this snack was first inspired.
The afternoon unfolded casually with relaxing boat rides and small chores around the house. There was a window of about two hours between the end of a boat ride and the beginning of the Big H barbeque at Terry and Sue’s, and I found myself wondering what I should do to fill my time. Kayak? Swim? Read? Then I remembered: apple picking! The orchard up the street had just opened for the season and I knew I had to get there before I left to go out west for the fall. I turned to my dad and asked if he had any interest. I'm not even sure why I bothered asking - without hesitation we hopped right in the truck and down Chipmunk Run we went.
My Dad and I both appreciate the quality of freshly picked summer produce. We both say that if we could eat summer corn and tomatoes every night for dinner, we would have no complaints. So, letting us go alone and unsupervised to the orchard was like letting two alcoholics loose in a liquor store (as my mom likes to call me when entering any food related venue). We walked along the rows of trees and ate and picked and ate and picked. The sky was still sunny and cloudless, and my favorite afternoon sun was making every apple and peach (bonus crop!) look like a piece of art. “Elizabeth, I think you’ve taken more pictures of the fruit than picked them.”
44 pounds later…(!), we drove back to camp with Cortlands, Macintosh, early Honey Crisp, and peaches for all to enjoy.
I walked in the door of the log cabin to see the crisp topping already in the process of being put together by my mom. I chose a few of the best Macs and Corts to wash and dice up. Once they were in the pan (which was big enough to hold a necessary double batch) they were smothered with oats, flour, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of clove.
When dinner time finally arrived, we sat and ate our burgers, hot dogs, sausages, beans, salad, and orzo salad (we wonder why we never starve up here...) as the sun set. We couldn’t believe the chill that had crept through the air. There was no need for a thermometer to tell us the lake temperature was dropping – the steam that slowly drifted off the water surface said enough. We quickly gravitated into the house upstairs where the apple crisp was minutes away from being done. “Smell that crisp!” everyone said as they entered the room. It seemed as though the smell of those spices played an equal role to the warming of our bodies as the heat of the house. Once the crisp had time to cool off a bit, I cracked through the crispy crust to the soft apple interior and divvied out dessert to everyone, with Lina as my ice cream assistant. Everyone sat and enjoyed their bowlful, continuously commenting on how good it tasted. Although they probably didn’t fully realize it, I knew that it didn’t have to do with the mixture of butter and sugar and apples that lay before them (at least not fully). I knew that even though they probably couldn’t pin point the last time they had eaten a crisp, it wasn’t recent, and the certain taste in their mouths was telling their bodies that it was finally time to accept fall as the current season. It was a taste they were realizing they had missed – a taste that only really comes around during a certain time of year. Not only did it affirm that dishes taste better when they are made with fresh and seasonal ingredients, but also that that is the sole reason of why we only save particular foods and recipes for specific times of the year. When we return to experiencing those tastes, we know for certain that a new chapter is beginning.
So there it was – my day turned out to be one of those days that you truly realize that change you had anticipated was finally coming. With a goodbye to summer through its last frozen blueberries, fall was graciously received with its first apple harvest. And even though there were hints of change from other parts of life, I found out from the simplest things, this time blueberries and apples, that the food around me can be one of the most power indicators of them all.