The Autumn of Our Content

I woke this morning to the first day of autumn. Not the official first day — technically, it’s been fall for a month now. But the first real first day of autumn, where I could feel it in my bones and soul. It’s one of my favorite feelings.

Silvery Autumn morning through the oaks

We in Southern California are less fortunate than our friends in other parts of the country who enjoy spectacular displays of changing foliage. Our poison oak turns kinda pink, which I guess is nice. And typically, when October arrives and those same friends are raking leaves and building fires, we’re out on the deck in shorts and t-shirts, grilling ribs and drinking beer. They envy us, we envy them.

But not today. Today was different. I awakened to a chill, reluctant to emerge from under my pile of covers. Out the window wisps of gossamer fog weaved through the muscular arms of the scrub oaks, softening them. Our silky rooster crowed plaintively, and I could smell coffee that was not yet even brewing. My favorite season had come.

With every change of season comes thoughts of food. In the spring, my mind turns to English peas, fava beans, wild morels and ramps; in summer, it’s tomatoes and zucchini blossoms and Alaskan salmon. Autumn is a special time for food, as the northern hemisphere descends toward winter and the smell of a loaf of bread baking can nearly bring a man to tears.

The pink wine that was so welcome in May now seems frivolous. It is a time for a silky pinot noir to prepare us for the cabernets to come. Half a day’s drive to the north, where the grapes have been harvested and my family is making wine, the forest is welcoming the first mushrooms — chanterelles, porcini, oysters and candy caps. I count days until I am there, my eyes adjusting to the thousand grays and browns of the leafy duff, and I spot something poking out. Soon there will be wild mushroom bisques and wild mushroom pizzas and tortelloni stuffed with wild mushrooms and suspended in a rich chicken brodo. Meats previously destined for the grill will instead land in the roasting pan, or find their way into a long-simmered ragu. Light sushi dinners will recede to bubbling cauldrons of shabu shabu, fish tacos will bow to pots of smoky pozolé. And up ahead, around the bend past Halloween, lies that greatest autumnal celebration of them all — Thanksgiving.

Strange to think that Thanksgiving was once my least favorite holiday. That was before I understood what really mattered. As a child, Thanksgiving meant sitting at a big table for much longer than you wanted with second cousins you didn’t really care that much for and having to eat chalky turkey, brussel sprouts and little discs of something dark pink that came out of a can. But now, it is a time to celebrate the rich bounty of the season. I don’t care much for turkey and stuffing, cranberries and green beans. When it’s my turn to cook, I’ll roast a couple ducks or a pork shoulder instead, and mash some celery root. If I veer Italian, a wild mushroom risotto will be on the menu. Once I made a German Thanksgiving with spaetzle and chanterelles, and pork schnitzel.

The silky rooster foraging

I know the indian summer may still appear. And I’ve still got tomatoes and chilled beer at the ready. But today, gray skies and a chill invite long sleeves and contemplation of darker, richer, earthier things to come.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. P
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 02:04:55

    Wonderfully illuminated. 🙂

    Reply

  2. Andy
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 03:14:15

    So well written, it’s amazing. Thanks for the mood.

    Reply

  3. Greggie
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 05:49:17

    “Out the window wisps of gossamer fog weaved through the muscular arms of the scrub oaks, softening them.”

    That sounds like the opening of a great book waiting to be written… and read.

    Wonderful essay.

    Reply

  4. mom
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 15:22:26

    I couldn’t wait to get to the comment because I too thought this was wonderful reading. Evidently it was well appreciated by many.
    So does this mean you’re coming up for Thanksgiving? And cooking pork?ox

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Oct 21, 2011 @ 15:36:23

      We are coming up for Thanksgiving. But you didn’t think for one minute Bruce would let us get away with anything but turkey, did you!??? ; )

      Reply

  5. nat the rat
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 15:33:39

    Fall rules! Don’t know how you find the time to write great stuff like this, but it is appreciated! great images and great pictures!

    Reply

  6. Bruce Patch
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 16:23:19

    Indeed we must have a turkey!

    Reply

  7. monica
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 18:17:04

    Turkey!!! Love all the traditional fixings! I can’t wait to eat sweet pototoe casserole and creamed spinach! My fave side dishes 🙂

    Reply

  8. Suzanna
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 20:35:42

    Oh my! That silky addition is VERY handsome (and much more distinctive a rooster, too)!
    I love your Oaks, and always enjoy the evocative writing.
    Can’t wait to eat, and sharpen my own mushroom eyes.
    xo

    Reply

  9. g
    Oct 23, 2011 @ 03:43:51

    I love the foggy mornings, too. But I am seeing a lot of coyotes out in the open lately – Jack and I have encountered them a couple times on our morning walks. I guess as long as we stay away from them we’re good, eh?

    PS – don’t worry about the fur everywhere. Jack had a spa treatment today.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Oct 23, 2011 @ 14:20:15

      They got a couple chickens while we were out of town. So they’ve been hanging around. Harmless unless you’re a small animal. Yes, I went outside and it looked like Jack had exploded!

      Reply

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