My favourite time of year

I love hydrangeas. Always have. Probably always will. I use them on wreaths and in mantle arrangements. I dry my garden ones and put them in my Christmas tree. I have tin signs with hydrangeas for my garden shed and pictures of them in my house. I hang hydrangea wreaths on my doors.

In fact, when I think about it, I love sunflowers too. And pumpkins and squash. This is probably because all of these things are harbingers of autumn, my favourite season. The skies seem bluer, the clouds more fluffy. Fall means crisp mornings, sweaters in the evening and the smell of apples and cinnamon in the kitchen, while jars of pickles mature on the back porch – my picture of perfection. I spent a lot of my life in eastern Canada and New England, so our annual trip east in September warms my heart with the autumn colours and roadside stands filled with apples and pumpkins.

Cooler weather puts our fall menu planning in high gear. This year has been a great year for herbs, so I have been experimenting with various pestos and sauces to enhance our winter dishes. Sage and walnut pesto is high on my list, with mint and pistachio close behind.

Beet salad with goat cheese, blackberries and mint is a wonderful early fall dish.

Beet salad with goat cheese, blackberries and mint is a wonderful early fall dish.

In my kitchen the secret to good pestos is fresh ingredients and attention to small details, like toasting the nuts and adding a little acid to keep the colour true. I use a cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, the greener the better, and of course fresh parmesan. I don’t add parsley to my basil or sage pesto, although some people do. I do however also make rubs, often with rosemary, oregano, parsley and sage, for pork and beef roasts.

I had too many peaches this year and so experimented with a peach-bourbon barbecue sauce. It isn’t perfect yet – it has the heat but not the bite, but over the next couple of weeks I should be able to sort that out. As well, I made apple butter, which I haven’t made in years, and now I remember why. To reduce it to perfect butter consistency, you have to simmer it for a long time, and unless you cook it in a very deep pan, apple butter ends up spotting everything within a foot. I am going to try a splatter screen on the next batch because it really is the most scrumptious breakfast spread ever.

Because I had all this bourbon for the barbecue sauce, I decided to infuse some of it with apples and cinnamon. It is due to be strained tonight, and I think it will make a wonderful addition to a cup of tea. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

And then there are pickles. This year I tried French cornichons, a tart little pickle flavoured with tarragon. They are a nice garnish on a ham sandwich or a slider. I am excited to try them! As well, tonight the cukes go into brine for dills. I got the pickling cucumbers from one of our local Hutterite colonies and the dill from my garden. This year I am putting some of them in Weck jars for gifts. We carry these jars at the Daily Grind, and while they are not cheap, they are a beautiful way to package your food gifts, and aren’t gifts of homemade food the best way to say I love you?