As soon as the temperature outside starts to drop, as we begin the slow process of digging out sweaters and storing away beach towels, my oven seems to emit a gravitational pull.
Autumn makes me feel like baking.
And not just baking – cooking. Chopping, stirring, mixing, mincing, searing, braising, basting, roasting.
I spot the first batch of mums and pumpkins outside the grocery store, and I race home to my stained, dog-eared binder of recipes, the one I’ve ignored most of the summer.
I scour cookbooks. I sit on the couch with a pile of them beside me and, during a break in the football game, turn to Randy and say, “Remember that venison meatloaf?”
He does. It was phenomenal, so lean but juicy. A friend gave me that recipe, along with a couple of pounds of venison, not long after her husband had bagged a deer.
I suddenly realize it’s not just the recipes I adore so much, or the act of preparing them, or even the fresh, crisp chill that drifts in from the kitchen windows. It’s the stories and memories behind the cooking. They ground and inspire me.
Autumn means caramel corn, a decades-old recipe from my buddy Alice. I fetch the roasting pan and remember Hannah and Jack as toddlers, standing guard beside the air popper to devour stray kernels.
Autumn means creamy potato soup, my parents’ recipe, the one they cooked up a full week after Hannah’s due date, willing that child into the world – successfully, it turned out – with pureed carrots and a pinch of nutmeg.
Autumn means pumpkin pie, fragrant candles, apple cider with butterscotch schnapps.
Pumpkin bread always reminds me of Tara, and artichoke dip of John and Sally. My chicken and noodles will always be “Deb’s Chicken and Noodles,” the ones she delivered to our house after Jack was born. Crockpot queso might be nothing special, but it conjures memories of my friend Kirk’s mom, one of the most special ladies who ever lived.
One day, no doubt, my children will conjure memories as they bite into autumn’s first Honeycrisp apple, or when they cook up “Mom’s famous” pork with gorgonzola sauce for that person they’re trying to impress.
Or maybe the memory will be as simple as a s’more, roasted over a backyard fire pit to golden perfection, a sweet and fitting salute to the season.