Words by Danica van de Velde
We’ve made a list of ideas to help you welcome the harvest season.
In “Day and Night Songs,” Irish poet William Allingham beautifully describes autumn as “the mellow time.” Indeed the shift into autumn’s tastes, textures and colors is mellow. The palette becomes one of deep mauves, yellows and oranges; the food becomes warmer and more comforting; there is a feeling of settling down slowly. Autumn, a season of warmth and contentment, is inspiration for many traditions in my home.
Spring cleaning is a well-established custom for many, but I find the prospect of autumn cleaning far more enticing. Replacing the cotton shorts and T-shirts of summer with woollen scarves, mittens and beanies is a tangible representation of the shift into my favorite season. Just as the landscape is touched with the earthy reds, yellows and oranges of autumn foliage, I place snuggly throws on sofas and wrap scarves around my neck.
During the ’80s and ’90s, handwritten recipes regularly circulated in my mother’s office. As I became increasingly interested in food, I often found myself leafing through the folder that contained those beautifully scrawled memories of shared meals. The one recipe to which I still turn is cream of pumpkin soup. Originally made by my mother’s best friend, Moira, the golden hue of the soup with its swirled flourish of cream and sprinkling of parsley—a food signature of many ’80s dishes—is not only immediately evocative of the season, but also gestures toward the subtle inheritance of food traditions.
As a young girl I participated in a number of scavenger hunts, collecting as many types of flora as possible. Although my childhood scavenging days are well in the past, I still cannot resist an imperfectly formed pinecone or the delicate texture of a fallen leaf. For me, that point in the afternoon when dusk begins to settle and the crisp air tinges your cheeks a rosy shade of pink is the best time to experience the natural magic of the season.
Hot From the Oven
I bake year-round; even through the sweltering heat of summer, I will endure the almost intolerable sultriness of my kitchen for a home-cooked meal or treat. With the cool change of autumn, however, the warmth of baking brings its own pleasure. Whether I’m making my favorite peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies or Finnish rye bread, the delicious scent of baking that fills the house—combined with the cozy heat from the oven—is one of the unassuming treasures of the transition into chilly weather.
Cultivating the Winter Herb Garden
While gardening is commonly associated with the spring, when the earth is regenerating, I always plant new herbs in my garden for the onset of autumn. As summer herbs such as basil, coriander and parsley wilt and fade away in the cooler months, I replace them with hardy herbs that can withstand the harsh changes to the climate. Harvesting rosemary, sage, and thyme for roasting meat and flavoring root vegetables is a quintessential autumn activity in my house.
The Indoor Picnic
Although picnics are usually linked with the more temperate seasons, there is something to be said for subverting the al fresco nature of picnicking when it is either too cold or too wet to be outside. Setting up an informal picnic blanket and cushions on the floor of the living room is one of my favorite ways of gathering with friends. A simple mezze (selection of Greek appetizers), a homemade music compilation inspired by the changing season, and good company are all that is required.
The Café Stroll
Balzac once claimed that the act of strolling is “la gastronomie de l’œil” or “the eye’s gastronomy,” shedding light on how the sights of the urban and rural environment can provide nourishment. Taking this idea a step further, a few of my close friends and I regularly indulge in what could be termed a café stroll. We spend the day wandering through inner-city neighborhoods in search of hidden nooks, and we pause to warm our toes and sate our appetites with milky lattes and rich hot chocolates.
As much as the familiarity of time-honored rituals brings a sense of reassurance and comfort, there is undoubtedly something special about adopting new traditions. I recently had my first taste of mulled wine, fragrant with star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and citrus, and I was instantly won over. The feeling of a slower pace in autumn provides time to cultivate different approaches to the everyday and to make small changes to our seasonal repertoire. I may try making gnocchi for the first time or learn how to knit, but I will definitely be spending my evenings stirring spices into a saucepan of gently simmering red wine.