Words and Recipes by
Salt Water Farm Cooks for Fall
Photography by Kristin Teig and Sita Hellerich
Here’s a brace of homey favorites from soup to dessert for when the nights begin to cool and we welcome the warmth of the kitchen and the flavors of autumn
The first cool night usually comes towards the end of August. It’s not a commitment, but rather a suggestion of what’s to come. A breath of cool air passes through the windows that have been open for months to alleviate the brutal heat of long summer days. You reach for a blanket because you’ll sleep better with it draped over the bed.
This is the moment when something in me shifts. My thoughts turn toward the coming season, autumn and all that it brings: Crisp walks through the rolling hills beneath the trees ablaze with color, bourbon and cider cocktails served around the fire, stews of second cuts of meat made tender with long, slow cooking. A part of me clings to the memories of the days now past; floating in the lake, berry pies, and picnics in the grass. But in truth, fall is my favorite season. It stirs certain emotions tied to family and friends coming together around a single table set with generous platters of roasted vegetables and braised meats, hearty green salads and desserts heavy on the pears and apples.
Our vegetable and herb gardens just outside the kitchen have generously provided a season’s worth of fodder for our feasts, the excess of which has been put up for winter’s more barren months. We devote days in late September and early October to scouring the garden for overripe tomatoes, hidden cucumbers and stray squash, camouflaged by their own leaves and vines. The last summer harvest is packed and processed, the air in the kitchen fragrant with hot vinegar and heavy with steam. Once the pantry shelves have been stocked, there is a second autumn harvest to come. An established growth of tubers, brassicas, alliums, hearty greens, squash and herbs that held up to the heat have not been forgotten, rather they will become the stars of our fall culinary productions.
Out comes the collection of Le Creuset cooking pots in orange, green, blue, and red enamel, their blackened bottoms and scarred interiors a testament to a lifetime of slow cooking. The single scent that drives the feeling of fall home for me is that holy trinity known as mirepoix—minced onions, carrots and celery—just as it hits the hot oil in which meat has been browned. This is not a spring or summer start to a dish, but most certainly and satisfyingly a fall approach. It is also a guarantee that the kitchen (and with luck the entire home) will soon fill with the savory smells of stew-making, the brassy vegetables sweetening over time as the sauce reduces to sticky perfection and the meat begins to fall off the bone. In the oven, squashes brushed with honey, olive oil, and savory herbs are roasted hot, skins and all, until their sugars condense and their flesh almost melts. Large, well-oiled wooden bowls are packed with torn kale, chard, mustard greens, and late-season spinach and arugula tossed with toasted nuts and autumn fruits.
And let us not forget the treasures of the hunt, for the woods has a further wild bounty to offer: the gamebird and the fall mushroom. My father is up before dawn to stalk the grouse, woodcock, duck, and turkey amongst the brush. All of these creatures are welcome additions to the table, their sacrifice honored with careful preparation. A dear friend swings by with a five-pound maitake mushroom, the king of autumn fungi, with confidence that in our accomplished kitchen, justice will be done.
While the summer kitchen is often a race to catch up to the garden’s bounty, the food of fall is more a call to slow down and settle in. This season’s flavors cannot be rushed but must be coaxed, revealing themselves at their own measured pace. As the stew simmers, you have the chance to pour yourself a glass of something amber in color, build a fire in the hearth, and catch up with a friend whose company you have missed during the warmer months.
Bourbon Cocktail with Apple Cider, Lemon, and Maple Syrup
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces bourbon
2 ounces cider
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce maple syrup
Lemon peel garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the bourbon, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Give it a good shake. Pour into an old fashioned glass filled with ice cubes and top with the cider. Give it a stir and finish with a lemon peel.
Fall Mushroom Soup with Savory Herbs and Warm Cream
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow sweet onions, diced
4 leeks, cut into thin rounds
1½ pounds button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
¼ cup sherry
4 cups chicken stock
Fresh ground pepper
½ pound maitake mushrooms, cleaned and cut bite-sized
3 sprigs oregano, leaves picked from stems
3 sprigs thyme, leaves picked from stems
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked from stems
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
In a medium, heavy-bottomed soup pot with a cover, warm 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil over medium/low heat. Add the onions and a big pinch of salt and give a stir. Cover. Let cook for 5 minutes. Add the leeks and let cook for another 10 minutes. Add the button mushrooms and another pinch of salt and let cook for 10 minutes, checking periodically to make sure that nothing is browning. All the vegetables should be sweating in their own natural juice. Add the sherry and turn up the heat to medium/high. Let boil for 2 to 3 minutes until the alcohol is cooked off. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender or a stand blender to blend the soup to a slightly coarse texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste.
In a medium sauté pan, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium/high heat. Add the maitake mushrooms in one layer and let brown before flipping, about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Flip and add the savory herbs, whole. Let mushrooms brown on the flip side for about 3 minutes, along with the herbs. Remove from heat.
Divide soup among individual bowls. Garnish with savory herb and mushroom mix. Serve with a little pitcher of warm cream.
Golden Duck Legs with Pan-Fried Butternut Squash and Sage
1 buttercup squash
6 duck legs, thigh and drumstick
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
6 sage sprigs, leaves picked from stems
Sea salt to finish
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Halve squash by slicing down with stem on top. Place both squash halves seed side down on the cookie sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes or until soft throughout. Leave oven on.
Lightly coat the bottom of a large, stovetop and oven-safe sauté pan with 1 tablespoon oil and place over medium heat on stove. Season duck legs with salt and pepper. Place the duck legs skin side down and let cook on medium heat, allowing fat to render into the pan. Once they are golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes, flip and cook another 5 minutes in the pan. Turn off heat.
Remove squash from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. Place the duck legs into the oven in the sauté pan and let cook for 15 minutes.
Remove squash seeds and their fibrous membrane and then the skin and cut into wedges. Season with salt and pepper. Add remaining olive oil to a large sauté or cast iron pan. Add squash and let brown, about 8 to 10 minutes, and then flip and let brown on other side. Turn off heat.
Once duck legs are fully cooked, remove pan from oven and transfer legs to a plate or rack to rest. Put the pan used for the duck over medium heat on the stove top and add sage leaves to rendered fat and olive oil. Fry until they get a little crispy (not brown) and remove to a paper towel. Sprinkle with a little salt.
To serve, lay down a few pieces of squash, then a duck leg and garnish with a little sage. Pour a bit of duck fat from the pan over the dish and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve.
Pear and Hazelnut Cake
Makes 1 small 7-inch cake
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla or hazelnut extract
A pinch of salt
½ cup ground roasted hazelnuts
1 cup flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup heavy cream
1 firm pear, Bartlett or Anjou, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter, melted for brushing
1 small pitcher of maple syrup, warmed
Line the base of a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter and flour the sides.
In a stand mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula and beat again. In a medium bowl, combine the ground hazelnuts, flour and baking powder. Whisk to combine. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the cream in thirds until a thick batter is formed.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Pour the batter into a springform pan. Tap a few times to release any air bubbles. Fan the pear slices in a circle first laying them around outer edge of batter. Lay a second fan of pear slices on the interior, facing the opposite direction. Brush the pear with melted butter and place in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out dry. Remove cake from pan. Serve with a little pitcher of warmed maple syrup for drizzling.
Annemarie Ahearn is the author of Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm and offers classes and monthly meals at her seaside home.