I love the fall. The leaves turning, the chill snap in the air in the morning, the afternoon that is just warm enough for me to enjoy the front porch with a wine and cheese snack, the bounce in the dog’s gait as she leads me out on a walk through the neighborhood, the anticipation of Thanksgiving (one of my favorite food holidays). Walking through the market with all of the greens, chard, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, the last tomatoes of the season and of course the squashes... acorn, butternut, spaghetti, the colorful gourds, fall is just a great season. But my favorite just might be seeing all of the wonderful varieties of apples that call me from the baskets of the market and the produce aisle of the grocery store.
I did not grow up with fall. The seasons in San Francisco are much less defined, due to the coastal fog that cools the summer days and nights, so much so that October is often the sunniest month of the year. Further inland this is the tail end of the grape harvest, and it seems to me on each visit home, more and more of the landscape is being covered with vineyards.
But enough of my harvest homesickness and back to the apples. The apples of my youth were Red Delicious...crisp, sweet and sturdy enough for frequent inclusion in a child’s lunch bag. They did not seem to have a season, due to storage systems that were developed. And so they lost the specialness of their seasonality, and we lost some of the great varieties of apples that had been enjoyed in different parts of the country. Thank goodness for folks who kept some of those heirloom varieties going, and developed further interesting hybrids. So now is the time to enjoy the plentiful bounty of those varieties, each with its own unique characteristics.
Over coffee the other day a friend and I were swapping stories of hitch-hiking, train hopping and European youth hostels.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties I had several opportunities to travel and live in Europe, which continued the development my appreciation of different cuisines and cultures. Staying in youth hostels was an excellent way to keep your expenses down and meet people from all over the world. The level of comfort and amenities varied, and there were definite styles in different countries with the British being some of the best. The British youth hostels usually came with chores, assigned when you checked in. I seem to remember that it was the hostel in Salisbury where I was assigned kitchen duty, having arrived late and missing out on the easier assignments. My tardiness came from a fascination with Stonehenge, where I had stayed too long to get the easy bus to town. When I reported to the kitchen, I was immediately given a big bushel basket of Gravenstein apples to peel, core and slice. And the cook told me we were going to make a big batch of Mulligatawny, a word that I needed to have not only repeated, but written out so that I could say it myself. So we simmered onions and apples, spiced it with curry, added chicken stock, thickened the soup with cornstarch and added some of the rich countryside cream...and thus I was introduced to a great soup, which would appear from time to time at Homewood Gourmet. It was one of several soups that each had an informal “call list” of customers who would get a call the day we made it so that they could make room in their freezers and pick up a few pints. We would sometimes garnish the soup with toasted coconut or with banana chips. I prefer to make the soup with a crisp cooking apple, like a Granny Smith.
(chicken, curry, and apple soup)
6 apples, peeled, cored, diced
2 cups onion, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
4 TB curry powder (more to taste)
1 cup white wine
1 can apple juice concentrate or 1 qt apple juice
1 qt chicken broth to taste
salt and pepper
2 cups heavy cream
as needed corn starch
garnish banana chips and toasted coconut.
Sauté the apple, onion and celery in a little oil. Add the curry and stir to dissolve. Deglaze with white wine. Reduce by ½. Add apple juice or apple concentrate. Add chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for ½ hour. Add cream. Bring to a boil. If a smooth soup is desired, pureed in blender. If necessary, thicken with cornstarch, diluted in a little cold water or wine. Season to taste. Serve topped with banana chips and toasted coconut.