We drove out to a large farm stand a few days ago, in search of atmosphere for the front porch. It seems that autumnal decorations are de rigueur, even if it is just barely autumn, and not even October. Halloween has arrived. Our neighbors have had corn stalks and cascades of pumpkins decorating their entry way for more than a week. Fabric ghosts flit around a fence, and skeletons sit in rockers, flanking their front door. We look positively Grinch-y with our meagre display of flamed-out summer geraniums and limp coleus. It was only good manners to add a little fall color to our porch, and gain some cred in the suburbs.
We had a pleasant drive, playing hooky for an afternoon, shooting past harvested corn stubble, and still-green expanses of soy beans. We marveled at cotton fields and gawped at tobacco farms. We sped past solar farms, past well-maintained cottages, and tiny, tidy family burial plots. Past abandoned, vine-covered rural outposts, and the folks who keep their Christmas decorations up all year long.
The farm stand we visited was a bonanza of autumn: hundreds and thousands of pots of blooming chrysanthemums, and many stacks and heaps of pumpkins. I can’t say there were acres of mums, but I have never seen such an abundance of mums in one spot before. There were tables, and racks and aisles, and miles of aisles of mums: white, yellow, pink, rust and copper colored mums. The farm was an undulating rainbow of chrysanthemums. A small child pulled an unsteady red wagon out to the parking lot with the family’s chrysanthemum choice – a single, Brobdingnagian plant that towered over the boy – more of a tree than a potted flower. We made a more modest selection: two one-gallon-sized yellow-flowered plants to go in the planters on our top step. Plus we selected one ghostly white pumpkin, hastily plucked from a hallucinatory assortment of gourds. And poof! We were seasonal and au courant.
It is going to take a little bit more than window-dressing for us to leave summer behind. Visiting a farm stand is one way to feel in the moment, and so is tasting something familiar and evocative of fall. When was the last time you sat down with a nice, crisp apple? And not a warm, lumpy, bumpy one that has rolled around inside your lunch box for a week. When did you last enjoy a shiny, fresh Maryland apple?
Here is a handy dandy list you can print and take with you to the farmers’ market or your favorite farm stand. The very names are filled with poetry, travel, and adventure: Courtland, Crispin, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, McIntosh, Mutsu, Rome, Stayman and York. Maryland Apples:
Every food site in the universe is bursting with apple recipes right now. Even the New York Times is willing to suggest the best apple peeling device on the market, which is the old-fashioned, hand-cranked one we all grew up with. I like to try to peel an apple in just one piece with a paring knife, and very rarely am I successful. But it is just fall, and early in the season and I am a little rusty. Come Thanksgiving I will be ready for the annual apple pie challenge. In the meantime, I will hone my skills on apple dishes that are not so high stakes.
This apple tart looks awfully pretty, and will be good practice for Thanksgiving: The Easiest French Apple Tart
Garden & Gun has an even more forgiving apple recipe: Apple Fritters You can have apples and cider, all in one.
King Arthur Flour has the easiest of all, with the added bonus of deelish frosting, because if we are bent of plumbing our childhood memories, we must freely admit that frosting is the main reason to eat any sort of cake: Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
There are many smells that remind me of my childhood, and apples instantly bring me back to school days and lunch boxes and trying to eat apples when I had lost my front teeth. Fall reminds me of my misspent youth, and healthy snacks, and cool weather with falling leaves. I like to remember the Gilbreth family from Cheaper By the Dozen. Mr. Gilbreth, an efficiency expert early in the 20th century, with twelve children, was keen not to waste a single minute of any day. He ate apples in a very efficient, though, odd fashion: “When he ate an apple, he consumed skin, core and seeds, which he alleged were the most healthful and most delectable portions of the fruit. Instead of starting at the side and eating his way around the equator, Dad started at the North Pole, and ate down through the core to the South.”
The neighbors’ festive fall decor isn’t looking so out-of-place to me now that we are participating in a modest fashion. Maybe after eating a few apples I will start feeling more nostalgic. Happy October!
“Someone once asked Dad: “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?” “For work, if you love that best,” said Dad. “For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure. For mumblety-peg, if that’s where your heart lies.”
― Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.