How can something as fabricated as a calendar change dictate a change in the weather?
You know what I’m talking about: how it suddenly feels very cool in the shade, how leaves are developing tints of gold and red, and, surprisingly, how that touch of frost dusted a few lawns early on Friday morning. There’s no way Mother Nature can be bothered with our human calendar, yet as soon as we turned the page from August to September last week, Summer started its transition to Autumn.
Less heat, less humidity, less of a need to slop on sunscreen or shave one’s legs… the coming season is appealing for many reasons. The days are becoming noticeably shorter, but while the sun’s out, the blue sky seems more expansive and clearer than it did a few short weeks ago. A secondary definition for Autumn is a “period of maturing” — extremely apt, considering that the frivolity of summer comes to a screeching halt as soon as the kids go back to school for another year.
But the maturation is more than just academic; think of all the local produce that is still rolling into farmers’ markets and grocery stores. While we won’t taste the fleeting ripeness of local blueberries or summer strawberries for many more months, we can savour hardier veggies and fruits throughout the winter: apples and potatoes, pears and parsnips. The fading sun casts a golden tone over the garden — sunflowers glow golden, maples burn bright red — while a few months ago, the sharp sun of July shone favourably on fluorescent petunias and geraniums.
One of my favourite lyrics, from a song about seasonless Los Angeles, is “without the seasons, will I know how to change?” The change from Summer to Autumn certainly seems to bring more change than the fictional start of a new year on Jan. 1. All those years of school have rubbed off on us; we’re perpetual students starting back at it, in shiny new clothes and an attitude that, this time around, we’ll be more organized and aim higher, whether it’s keeping the kids on track this school year or getting machinery ready for the harvest.
I love Summer, but after a while the blazing brightness and casualness grates on me. Too much heat and humidity and I wilt, and I wish Canada would follow France’s lead and just have everyone take off the entire month of August so we could all accomplish nothing simultaneously. And while I’ll never turn down an invitation to a pool party in mid-July, sipping a glass of wine by a roaring fire come October is equally appealing.
Summer isn’t officially — or unofficially — over for a few more weeks; I fully intend on soaking up as much of what’s left of it as possible. But you can bet I’ll be pretty pleased to fully participate in the quieter, contemplative joys of Autumn — raking leaves, pulling out the sweaters and perhaps buying some great new boots — when the weather says it’s time.
And speaking of being pleased… the intention of the column was never to be a soapbox for our business, but I think everyone will be excited to know that our parking lot is now paved! It’s thrilling to look out over that expanse of clean black asphalt, and Andrew and I would like to thank everyone who put up with the muck and mess, especially while our addition was under construction.
What’s one of the greatest things about Autumn? Warming up the kitchen — and the soul — with a hearty meal. Here’s a bone-sticker that also takes advantage of the coming season’s bounty.
Autumn Squash Chowder
3 tbsp. butter
11/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped leek, white part only
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp. flour
5 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups red potatoes, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 cups assorted autumn squash, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp. hot sauce, or to taste
Melt butter over medium heat in soup pot. Add onion, carrot, celery, leek and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or until softened. Season with salt and pepper.
Add white wine and reduce for two minutes. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and cook for two minutes or until flour is fully absorbed. Gradually add vegetable stock, stirring together with the vegetables until incorporated. Bring to boil then add potato, squash, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves.
Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, occasionally stirring. Add cream, hot sauce, and simmer for five minutes until flavours are amalgamated. Season to taste.
Serves six to eight.