Wednesday, October 20, 2010

‘tis autumn

October gave a party;
the leaves by hundreds came -
the chestnuts, oaks, and maples,
and leaves of every name.
the sunshine spread a carpet,
and everything was grand,
miss weather led the dancing,
professor wind the band.
~George Cooper


One fine fall day, we hopped in the family station wagon and headed 90 minutes east of Seattle, to sleepy Roslyn, WA, where friends transformed their sprawling backyard into a Rockwell-esque autumn wonderland.


Rows of jolly pumpkins, ripe tomatoes, and massive zucchini bowed before towering sunflowers with cheery faces turned skyward.  Fruit bearing trees sagged under the weight of frosted plums, speckled pears and rosy red apples.   In one corner of the yard, folks gathered around a wooden cider press while young and old alike turned the crank on a steady rotation.  Golden brown liquid tumbled into cast iron pots and pans as jug after jug was filled to the brim with sweet apple nectar. 


Fueled by cider and cookies, carefree children frolicked in the grass, carved spooky pumpkins, swayed in the hammock and were generally underfoot.  Dinner was a rustic affair with home cooked comfort food served alfresco amid the cotton candy glow of a setting sun.  Mismatched plates and vintage cloth napkins proved charming as well as environmentally friendly.  When at last the sun slid behind distant rooftops, guests donned jackets and sweaters to ward off the sudden chill while toasting marshmallows under the silvery light of a harvest moon.  Temperatures were expected to dip into the high twenties that night, our hosts told us.  With the first frost, their waning garden would soon give up the ghost. 


The following day, we made our weekly pilgrimage to the Ballard Farmers Market where news of the frost was widespread.  Produce vendors fervently touted the last local corn and tomatoes of the season.  Stands spilled over with an abundance of potatoes, kale, beets, squash, apples and onions.  The sun's distant warmth failed to elude penetrating cold as fall quietly crept into the market. 

It was perfect weather for a bowl of split pea soup.  Far from its watery counterparts, my version is a soup with a backbone- dense, nourishing and peppered with satisfying bits of sweet carrot, celery and smoky ham.  I have always loved a good pea soup and was thrilled when, during my first visit to Holland, I discovered that it is an integral part of Dutch cuisine, particularly during cooler months. 

As a young boy, my Dutch husband, veritable Hans Brinker that he was, brought along a thermos of pea soup whenever he skated the frozen canals of his childhood village.  Because Holland is flat and filled with canals, the wind can be particularly bone chilling.  A steaming thermos of hot soup was just the thing to ward off biting cold. 

The following recipe is my personal take on the perennial favorite.  According to Dutch tradition, you should be able to stand a spoon upright in a good pea soup. This one certainly fits the bill.  Wholesome and delicious, it is a meal unto itself when served alongside buttered brown bread or freshly baked whole wheat buttermilk yeast rolls

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