Giving Thanks for Autumn’s Bounty

- October 31, 2012

"This fall, as you sit down to dinner, consider the fruits of the autumn harvest that grace your table and say a prayer of thanks"

As summer winds it way out and we start the shift to fall, the seasonal shifts in ingredients are reflected on our plates, where sweet corn and juicy tomatoes give way to acorn and butternut squash and fingerling potatoes. Instead of salads and barbecue, we dine on stews and soups, roast meats and hearty desserts like apple pie and mincemeat.

There's something about the seasons that make us crave different foods to sate our hungers. In spring, wild asparagus, tender beans, baby lamb and fresh herbs fill our plates, while summer brings watermelon, grilled chicken, roasted corn and peach pie. The fall harvest offers pumpkins, squash, apples of every kind, apple cider and, if you're lucky, a plastic pumpkin full of Halloween candy. Winter finds us hungering for hearty meals—chicken and dumplings, roast brisket with carrots, potatoes and onions, meat loaf slathered with ketchup and chicken pot pie.

In New Mexico, we're fortunate to have a native fall crop that is known around the world for its earthy flavor, pungent taste and rockin' heat. Green chile is as much a part of our cuisine as tortillas, enchiladas and tamales on Christmas Eve. Cultivated for its unique flavor and intensity in heat, New Mexico green chile is a totally unique ingredient found only in our region and it's the star of our native cuisine.

New Mexico is also the country's first wine region, where Franciscan monks from Spain needed wine as part of the sacrament in their bid to convert the native people. The monks carried vine cuttings with them on their journey to New Mexico from Spain in 1629. Today, the state has a thriving wine business, with more than 50 wineries located around New Mexico.

Up north, in Dixon, apple orchards yield delicious fresh, crisp apples that are sold at the Santa Fe Farmer's Market every weekend throughout fall. The market also offers organic turkeys for Thanksgiving as well as organic lamb, sausage, beef and buffalo meat. You'll also find all the other ingredients needed for a fall harvest feast, including homeb-baked breads, artisanal cheese, salsas, chutneys, jams and pies.

For me, fall brings the aroma of fresh baked apple pie slathered with whipped cream, homemade sugar donuts with apple cider from Terhune Orchards, a family farm in Princeton, N.J. we'd visit when I was a kid, and the leaves had started to fall.

I remember ice skating on Carnegie Lake and coming home for hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven. After a full day of figure skating practice, there was nothing like a dinner of rich beef fondue, served with horseradish and sour cream sauce.

One of my favorite things to make as a kid was apple crisp, all sugary and buttery and topped with ice cream. I used the recipe from the" Betty Crocker's Cooking with Kids "cookbook, which I had cooked my way through by the time I hit the teenage years.

From my mom, I learned to make the perfect roast chicken basted in its own juices, and the quintessential vinaigrette right out of the pages of Julia Child.  And if once in a while we ate a Swanson's chicken pot pie, well, she made up for that by serving her famous spanokopita, buttery layers of filo dough slathered with butter and layered with spinach and feta cheese.

Cooking was always a central part of our family's day, from sharing bowls of oatmeal or Cream of Wheat for breakfast,  hoagies from Hoagie Haven for lunch and my mom's delicious barbecued chicken, with homemade barbecue sauce using a family recipe I'm still searching for today.

This fall, as you sit down to dinner, consider the fruits of the autumn harvest that grace your table and say a prayer of thanks to nature for all that she serves us.

Apple Crisp (From "Betty Crocker Cooking with Kids)"

Serves 6

 4 medium tart cooking apples, sliced (4 cups)

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats

1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Cream or Ice cream, if desired

Heat oven to 375ºF. Grease bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan.

Spread apples in pan. In medium bowl, stir remaining ingredients except cream until well mixed; sprinkle over apples.

Bake about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm topped with cream.