Tuesday, September 29, 2015

september clear

A week ago I was leaning over the counter eating a luscious little Chanterais melon from Dutchess Farm and finishing up Jacob de Zoet’s thousandth autumn. I’d sprinkled the orange flesh with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. It tasted so sweet and so refreshing and had such a clean, honeyed scent, as well, that I couldn’t help imagining this elegant globe lying in a field on the end of a vine for so long – all this long hot, dry summer, really –  in Steve’s Castleton field– growing larger – but not very large, some as big as softballs, some hardball size, and some slightly larger than a golf ball – and rounder, the delicious seed pod expanding from that tiny yellow blossom, under the sun and the rain, to end up here in MY kitchen, satisfying MY hunger, while this extraordinary September light pours through my clean windows.

We’ve been busy practically all summer working on the windows of this old house, painting, mending, taking down storm windows and putting them up, and, all the while, washing them. We washed them several times until they gleamed, but next day early morning and evening sun illuminated smudges that were awe-inspiring. I tried Windex. I tried my own DIY of one part water to one part ammonia to one part rubbing alcohol. Smudge City. I tried microweave cloths, paper towels, newspaper. “Take the storms off once more,” I directed my helper. Belatedly, I googled the experts. A drop of dish detergent in hot water and a squeegee, they said.

That worked. Just in time for this September sun to angle down in the way I’ve gloried in for *gasp* forty years now, to warm all the well-worn wood in the most delightful way.

We take the mysteries of the growing season so much more for granted than we do the mysteries of fall. We eat directly off the vine, with very little preparation, because everything is so glorious it’s best just fresh. Plants are a great leveler, feeding rich and poor alike, in great houses and humble – in both you find people gnawing corn off the cob.

The mystery of this particular crux of seasons, is that while this lights slants more and more from the south, some of us are still picking basil off the bush, tomatoes off the vine, and cutting okra from its stem, too, while mountainsides are incredibly slow to turn crimson and gold, and unusually dun-colored leaves spiral off the trees over the deck and you have to pluck them out of the tarragon before you pick it. Our frost comes later and later. So, apparently, does the color.

What we’ve been eating most of all this highly prolific summer is vegetables – and one of my favorite ways of preparing them is to fry them. Eggplant, green tomatoes, just-ripe tomatoes, zucchini, okra. I slice them (except I leave the okra whole), dip them into a tempura batter and fry them in lard that Pine Woods Farm in West Pawlet has rendered from their own pigs, or in some butter and olive oil. I’m not tired of them yet. I gave a recipe for that tempura batter a few weeks ago. It’s mostly a scoop of flour, salt, coupla tablespoons olive oil, water enough to make a thinnish batter, let it sit, then add a whipped egg white before using.

But now, with September light, a different mode makes itself known. Last Saturday, before I went to the Rutland Farmers’ Market as usual, I threw a couple of still-frozen lamb shanks into the slow cooker – my kitchen could use some warming up but if it had been warmer I would have plugged the cooker in on the porch, which I did a few times this summer. I was very happy to find lamb at the Dorset Farmers’ Market two weeks ago – I do not believe Rutland’s has anyone selling lamb anymore. The question begs to be asked: Why Not?

Along with the shanks went some chopped tomatoes, red wine, garlic, shallot, celery, and whatever herbs I found quickly in the garden – a bay leaf, oregano. A Hungarian hot pepper. Slices of fennel. An anchovy or two (read Karen Ranz’s latest Rutland Bites article, Amping Up Flavors for Cool Weather Cooking. It’s excellent). Two shanks, maybe a teaspoon of salt. I set it on low and left for pretty much the whole day. When I came back at three the shanks were tender and melted into a glutinous sauce. I turned the switch to warm and later on boiled some potatoes and carrots and served the shank stew over them with some good Kate’s Butter from Maine. I added some of the veg cooking water to the stew. It was awe-fully good! That first dish of the proverbial “long simmered stew’ season.

I used what I had. You don’t need a recipe – you need lamb shanks and flavors and some wine and tomatoes for making the stew, and then some vegetables or pasta to serve it over.

Enjoy your veggies and this extraordinary September light; and go wash those windows. It’s worth it!

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