Autumn is my favourite season in the kitchen. Oh, I like the others well enough: the heady scents of Christmas baking, with its spices and sugared fruits; the bright flavours of radish and egg and green onion in early spring, giving way to dozens of delicate early vegetables; followed by endless salads and greens to brighten our summer season. The other seasons are enjoyable—but they are not autumn.
Perhaps I am biased. Perhaps it is my October birthday, or the candy and colours of Halloween, that make me love autumn more than any other season. But I suspect there is something more to the equation. There is, of course, the garden. The days are shortening, the nights are cold, and I am now allowed to collect on the investments I made in spring and summer. The planting, weeding, watering, and fretting have made something, and I am allowed to be a part of this too.
Every year I plant dozens of tomato plants. I fear for their survival and their safety. I worry for my tomato harvest. And every year I am proven wrong. “Four laundry baskets worth of tomatoes” wrong. But this is where the fun begins.
Beets, carrots, and potatoes come up from under the ground, forkfuls of them, dripping earth. I snap corncobs off of their stalks, and rustle cucumbers from under their vines. Pumpkins grow hidden by huge, curling leaves. And the tomatoes—oh, the tomatoes…
Pasta sauce. Salsa. Tomato soup, and its exotic cousin Gazpacho. Many of the other ingredients come from my garden as well, including the basil, oregano, and garlic. I enjoy the other vegetables for their flavours, and appreciate the resilience of fall roots when stored over winter, but cooking tomatoes brings me an unparalleled joy. Simmering a sauce for hours feels like a special event to me, and I know that the work I do today will wait and be ready throughout winter until I am ready to open the jars again, and make a meal for my family.
As for the garden, its time is over for now. The plants are succumbing to the frost, some of them going dormant in order to sleep through the winter, others dying, not to return. A few vestiges of the summer remain in the bright orange of the rosehips, a stray sunflower that has not bloomed until now.
Winter is beckoning, and the evenings are dark now. It is time to light our lamps against the cold, to take the quilts from the closet, and to resume our tacit truce with our climate.
The harvest will sustain us until Spring arrives once again.