Fighting Off Fall

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I know that the calendar says that summer is behind us. I know that the evening temperatures, as well as Paris’ dark mornings, are trying to tell me that fall is here. But, to put it bluntly, I loathe fall. It’s not just that I don’t want to let the heat and light of summer go. I need to hold on to both — the heat and the light — as long as possible, so I can get myself through the long gray winter and come out the other side.

I’ve probably loathed fall since I got too old to jump in mountains of raked leaves, or at least since I stopped raking them in exchange for pocket money. Worse yet, autumn leaves in Paris, and indeed in most of the world, bear no resemblance to New England leaves, bring no recompense in the way of color and spectacle. Most of them just turn brown and then browner, until one day a driving rain comes and rakes them off the trees, clogging gutters and sidewalks, until the city’s army of street cleaners sweeps them up and out of sight.

Apart from the happy kitchen chaos of Thanksgiving and childhood memories of Halloween, autumn has always been a tough season for me. No surprise then that I’ll do anything I can to keep it at bay.

This year, I’ve managed to hang on to summer longer than usual. That’s thanks to the generosity of our neighbors down in the country, about four hours southwest of Paris, and our neighborhood farmers market, which runs every Saturday morning near the Place de Clichy.

Before we headed back to Paris a couple of weekends ago, our neighbors left us a big, heavy box of vine-ripened tomatoes, neatly packed and three deep. Each tomato was misshapen, some smooth, others deeply ridged, but all were dark red and seriously ripe, with skin so thin and fragile I could peel them without a knife, just using my thumbnail. One bite, and I was transported back to my paternal grandparents’ garden in Connecticut, where they grew more than enough of the world’s tastiest tomatoes to make puree to last an entire year, not to mention extraordinary tomato salads dressed with red onion, parsley, oil, and vinegar.

I’ve made endless tomato salads since we got back to Paris three weeks ago, and turned the mushier tomatoes into a vat of pasta sauce that’s already in the freezer. I’ve stuffed them too — halving, then scooping out all the seeds and juice, then letting them drain on paper towels while I chop up stale bread, and flavor it with minced parsley and garlic, salt, pepper, dried basil and olive oil, then mounding the stuffing into the halves. I bake them for 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven, and nless I’ve been careful to make enough so that they’re easily divisible by the number of people at the table, we fight over how many we get to eat.

The farmers market on the Boulevard des Batignolles has been doing its best to keep autumn at arm’s length too. I try to get there early, before most of our neighbors are stirring, and this year I’ve managed to time it right week after week, so that when I get to my favorite farm stand, they haven’t yet sold out of my favorite summer gift: fat bunches of big-leafed basil, deeply green and redolent with the smell that makes it the king of herbs (its name is said to come from the Greek word basilikos or kingly).

Each week I’ve been coming home with two bunches, which I quickly turn into pesto by tossing the leaves into my food processor along with a half a cup of olive oil, a couple of big cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of pine nuts, and a teaspoon of salt. Once processed, I stir in a couple of tablespoons of very soft butter and a quarter cup each of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses. I always think I’ll freeze it for winter, to be ready for when we’re all in dire need of summer vitamins and summer taste, but week after week we manage to eat every drop of it, on fresh tagliatelle or on orecchiette, a pasta that looks a bit like its name — little ears.

As long as that box of tomatoes out on our front balcony lasts, as long as that basil is still on sale, I feel at ease pretending it’s still summer. This morning I checked on the contents of the box. We’re down to the last two tomatoes, both of them looking seriously over-ripe, and I’m not at all convinced I’ll find basil making an appearance again on Saturday.

That will mean that my pretend summer is likely to be ending soon. Come to think of it, it’s probably already gone: I made my first rib-sticking batch of polenta this week, the first since a very chilly night early last spring. And truth be told, it tasted nearly as good as the pesto…

12 Responses to “Fighting Off Fall”

  1. Connie says:

    Dear Paula,

    Autumn in Connecticut is beautiful today. After 4 days of rain clouds the sun has arrived and is sparkling on autumn leaves as only it can do in New England. I will head to the lake this weekend to spend it with my best friends. They have already built their first fire of the season, as the nights are in the 40′s. I’m taking along your receipes in this blog as my friends have a garden and still have some tomatoes left and their own grown basil. I will try to convince them to use their last supplies to make your receipes. Warm sun, cool nights, a blue, blue sky and colors so beautiful it makes you believe in creation.
    Autumn in Connecticut. I hope these few comments cheered you regarding autumn.

    All the best,
    Connie

  2. Thanks for that message, Connie; I’ve been absolutely cheered up all afternoon, since people started defending their love of fall and perking me up in the meantime! Thanks for that, Paula

  3. Hi Paula, Speaking of fall, well tonight Gary is making his favorite Roast Pork with root vegetables and fresh made apple sauce. We have a fire in the fireplace. The best is that we have a ton of leaves, but condo living take care of that. It already is too dark when we leave for work at 630am. I just downloaded your fall food ideas!! Hope to see you at Fairfield. As always, Stephen

  4. linda michael says:

    Paula, I last sent you a message many months ago re keeping a feast, of sorts. I am currently in Florida where it is fall but still summer, except for the twilight breezes and the ecstatic sunsets. I also hate fall, sadness, loss, every dream one ever thought not turning out the way it was supposed to… I love Paris; am glad you are in a yummy food place, literally and figuratively.
    Linda Michael

  5. edith frazee says:

    Dear Paula,
    I must print out this blog as one of your other readers did for the recipes. I did not, however, see a recipe for the polenta.
    I think I already mentioned to you in one of my e-mails that November is my bad month. I always thought it was because I thought my mother had passed away in November. She died when I was 6, so what did I know. Anyway, a few years ago (at age 80), I found out from one of my sisters that she had, in fact, died in September. All these years I would hate to see the leaves go and into dismal November we would be. It still gets dismal in November, but not in the same way for me. Childhood plays many tricks on people, do you agree?
    Today is a glorious day in CT; just coincidentally I had been raking leaves and humming to myself as I did so.
    I am going to print out your article about fall. Love, Edie

  6. Donna B. says:

    Paula, I love fall. I am not a fan of excessive heat. I normally love September because it’s still warm during the day, but cool at night, but in PA, the excessive heat continued through most of September. I also always loved fall because of the soccer games, but both my children are in their twenties and those days have ended. I am a huge Christmas fanatic, so with fall’s arrival, Christmas is right around the corner. But then comes January, February and March and that I don’t like. Stay warm!

  7. Dave Ceponis says:

    Dear Paula,

    Just got around to reading your story. Your expert dispatching of those tomatoes made my mouth water so much I mentioned to Peggy she should try your techniques.

    She promptly replied I should try the recipes. Told her I just needed some good tomatoes. But who knows, you may have motivated me to try something in the kitchen (where I’m notoriously lazy). Will keep you posted.

    Dave C.

  8. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your message. I have to say that fall in New England is a WHOLE lot better than fall in northern Europe. Sunshine, warmish weather, blue skies, seeing Cherry Jones in Mrs. Warren’s Profression on Broadway yesterday, being fed Carol Ann’s butternut squash soup and roast duck, walking around Ridgefield with my brother — I could get used to all that pretty easily… I’m off to John Carroll University later today, to speak to students, and then will be back in Connecticut at Fairfield U on Thursday. Much looking forward to both.

    Cheers,
    Paula

  9. Larry Chance says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Paula!

  10. Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Larry. I had hoped to throw together a Thanksgiving blog this week, and I haven’t given up on the idea, but it’s certainly looking more and more like a look back at the day, rather than a look forward. Yesterday I went around the neighborhood with my little old lady grocery cart, buying the last of the food (for 22), and today I made half the vegetables, and a pecan pie. John made his apple pie tonight, and tomorrow I’ll do the pumpkin pie, and the rest of the vegetables while John wrestles with the bird and the stuffing. Every year I am reminded that it is no fun to carry a 16-pound bird around town: picked that up today today, without the grocery cart, since I have to go across town by metro to get it… But my biceps got a great workout! Hope you have a great holiday, and a juicy bird.

  11. Larry Chance says:

    I love the imagery of carrying such a large bird around Paris. We’re in Northern Ohio at my 82 year old Mother’s home, my daughter flew in from LA, it’s raining like the dickens, but we’re all looking forward to the feast, later today. Enjoy your holiday, Paula.

  12. Larry Chance says:

    Buon Natale, Paula.

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