Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Rains Have Come

I am the autumnal sun
by Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes a mortal feels in himself Nature
-- not his Father but his Mother stirs
within him, and he becomes immortal with her
immortality. From time to time she claims
kindredship with us, and some globule
from her veins steals up into our own.

I am the autumnal sun,
With autumn gales my race is run;
When will the hazel put forth its flowers,
Or the grape ripen under my bowers?
When will the harvest or the hunter's moon
Turn my midnight into mid-noon?
I am all sere and yellow,
And to my core mellow
.The mast is dropping within my woods,
The winter is lurking within my moods,
And the rustling of the withered leaf
Is the constant music of my grief....

When I was back east earlier this autumn my brother in law accused western Oregon of not having real seasons. I retorted that we do so - the early wet season, the wet and cold season, the wet with flowers season, the dry with green grass season and dry with yellow grass season. In fact, that's five seasons which makes one more than your lame Mid-Atlantic climate can claim. He was not terribly impressed. The seasons have shifted in what seems like the blink of an eye and it is no longer the dry with yellow grass season. The rains have come and it is now, very much, the wet season.

This part of the wet season, though, is spectacular in Portland. The wooded hills above town are a mix of Douglas fir and western red cedars, which don't change color, with big leaf maple which turn bright golden yellow this time of year. The street trees in town turn a wide mix of fantastic colors. There are many deep purple leaved plums, sweet gums turning yellow and red, oaks turning blue and even a good number of Japanese and red maples adding their reds to the mix. Across the street from my work are some trees, and I don't know what they are, that are exhibiting this amazing range of colors that seem to fade across the tree - still green on the lower branches and the north side of the tree, yellow and orange in the middle fading up to scarlet on the top and southern side. Even some individual leaves seem to shade from green to yellow or yellow to red. We may not have colors like they do in New England, but we have colors enough for me.

One of my favorite things to look for in the mid to late autumn is the way the light changes. It is coming in at a lower angle so the reds and yellows of the foliage seem that much brighter. It bounces off the dew and mist, made all the more dramatic by the late sunrise that no coincides with my morning dog walk. Even the light at night is more dramatic. The full moon this month lit up the park like daylight one night and two nights later the fields were almost as bright with city light bounced off low clouds. In the spring it seems like the colors are coming out of the ground as the earth itself wakes up from it's slumber. Low flowers are the first to show color and then it creeps up into the higher branches of trees. In the autumn the colors are streaming down out of the heaven tinting the tops of trees first and only later the ground as the leaves fall.

With the change in the weather comes a change in eating habits. Gone are the salads and light snacks of late summer and come back are stews, baked goods and hearty braised meats. Last week I went to the local health food store and came away with a dozen apples, a pound of bacon and a pie crust. The checker guessed I was going to make an apple pie that afternoon and she was right, but there's more. It was a bacon apple pie. Oh, yes, what better way to combine the fruits of the field with the fruits of the pig farm. It was, indeed, everything I could have asked for and more.

Bacon Apple Pie

1 double pie crust recipe - home made or store bought
4-6 apples, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
Lemon juice - about a tbs
3/4 lb of bacon, smokey and salty
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1 tbs cinnamon plus other spices, if you would like
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbs butter

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop the bacon into 1/4 inch chunks and fry until quite done but not crispy. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper toweling. Reserve grease for another use.

*If using home made pastry lay half of it into a pie pan and roll out and then cut the other half into strips to use for lattice. If using store bought pastry defrost it completely and then turn one of the pans worth out onto a cutting board. Roll the pastry flat with a rolling pin and slice into strips for the lattice top.

* As you slice the apples toss them with lemon juice to keep them from browning. When you are ready to assemble the pie drain the apple of any extra lemon juice and then toss with the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Some recipes call for a tablespoon of flour to get tossed in here too. I don't use it but you might like it.

*Start to layer the apple slices into the bottom pie crust. When one layer of spiced apples is in sprinkle some of the bacon bits on top. Add another layer of apples, more bacon and then a third layer of apples and bacon. You can pile the apples quite high in this pie, tucking them in and laying them well to form a solid mound. Dot the top of the pile of apples with butter cut into pea sized pieces. Sprinkle some sharp cheddar cheese over this if you are being really decadent.

*Follow these instructions to create a lattice crust on top of the pile of apples. Crimp all the edges well and place the pie pan on a baking sheet and then place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pie is very fragrant, you can see bubbly juice coming up through the lattice crust and the crust itself is nicely browned. Poke the pie with a knife to make sure the apples are tender then remove the pie and let it cool a bit. All pies are just as good at room temperature or cold and it will hold together better if you let it cool a bit. It will be worth the wait.

Note: a key to this pie, besides the copious amounts of smokey bacon, is to pile the apples really high in the pie pan. The lattice crust does a great job of sinking down on top of the apples as they cook and decrease in volume so it is important to start with what seems like too many apples. Nobody wants a too-skinny bacon apple pie.

How is the season changing where you are? Have you noticed the change in the light, or in foliage or in the rains? How do you stay warm these days? Have you ever tried a bacon apple pie or created some other brilliant baked concoction?

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