fall tastes: 10 posts

Cranberry Mors : Ruby Red Drink

I love the bold acidity of cranberries. Sometimes when I cook with them, I keep a few berries aside to eat raw and their combination of bitterness and tartness always takes me by surprise. Yet, if I wait a moment, I taste a floral sweetness, with a hint of red currant. When I make something with cranberries, I select simple recipes that allow these facets to shine, and more of often than not, I return to my grandmother’s recipe for cranberry mors, a fruit drink.

Mors is the whole world of Russian fruit beverages made with strawberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries or cloudberries, those unique berries with a taste of cardamom that grow in the northern lands. My paternal grandmother Daria was born in the region of Russia edged in between Ukraine and Belarus, and she remembered going to the forest to pick berries and prepare enough mors to last the family of 12 through the winter.

The traditional method to make cranberry mors was to cover berries with water and leave them to ferment naturally. However, when Daria moved to Ukraine and settled in Kyiv, the capital city, she began to make mors differently, by cooking the berries. Daria’s recipe was simple, but it was ingenious in the way it preserved vitamins and freshness.

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French Fig Jam

Jam has become such an industrial, mass-produced product that it might be hard to imagine making it at home. This is not the case in France–or much of Europe, for that matter. When I visited my friend on her farm in Burgundy, we drove around for hours only to discover that all of the stores were out of preserving supplies. We ended up ordering a case of jars from an online shop, because the figs were ripening fast.

My friend follows a recipe that has been in her family for several generations. We cut figs into quarters and weigh them to determine the amount of sugar. It’s 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar. Figs are sweet, so we add lemon juice. As their juices melt into sugar, the syrup becomes pink, then purple, then burgundy, like the famous wines of the region. The green perfume of figs transforms as they cook. The fragrance of natural coumarin in their peel, the aromatic that smells of toasted almonds and cherries, becomes more pronounced and richer. The lemon zest gives the fig jam a twist reminiscent of Shalimar.

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Warmth and Comfort: Perfect Teas for Autumn

Andy invites us to share a cup of tea.

I’m never really sure autumn has begun until I can smell the fallen leaves. Even as the trees begin to shed their green coats, sporadic warm days and bright sunshine deliver teases of summer. Nonetheless, once the leaves begin to tumble, so fall the tea leaves into my cup, and when dried foliage starts to crunch underfoot and release its crisp perfume of vetiver, myrrh, and scorched citrus peels, I know I’m in another season. Much in the way I select a perfume to wear, I often tailor my choice of tea to harmonize with the seasonal scents that naturally color my day. Whether you wish to reflect the time of year in your teacup or simply want to experience a taste of fall wherever you are, below are some of my favorite autumnal teas.

tea-autumn

The Art of Tea Caramelized Pear

I never would have believed a tea could deliver on a promise as specific as caramelized fruit, but this offering by Art of Tea actually does. The real wonder lies in a pear flavor married perfectly with the toasty softness of rooibos, so as to create the effect not merely of pears, but those slowly baked in the oven and glazed with golden sugar. This herbal tea is an indulgent choice, but even a sometimes tea-purist like myself can appreciate the autumnal embrace of this comforting cup.

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Vanilla and Nutmeg Scented Plum Jam

Judging by the variety of gourmand fragrances, the kitchen is a terrific source of inspiration for perfumers, and the exchange happens the other way too. A perfumer turns to vanilla to round out a composition, and if you’re in doubt how to jazz up your dessert, try this familiar sweet note. Vanilla is versatile enough to play along side many different ingredients, but it pairs especially well with stone fruit. This was my thinking as I simmered plums with sugar and a generous dose of vanilla in an impromptu jam I had to devise with a surfeit of damsons. I splashed it over the bubbling jam so liberally that the kitchen was filled with vanilla scented steam within seconds.

plum jam2

The jam was very good, and my husband pronounced it the best plum jam he has tried, but I felt that something was missing. The sweetness of vanilla and plums was rich and deep, but I wished there was more bite and sparkle. When I returned to the kitchen for one more experiment, I added lemon zest and nutmeg towards the end, and the spicy-citrusy twist completed the picture. Now, this jam was not only perfumed as well as something from Serge Lutens, but it was also richly flavored.

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Miso Grilled Salmon with Honey and Orange

As much as I love experimenting with new foods, there are times when all I want is comfort. If I’ve had a tough day and need a hug, I make a bowl of mashed potatoes with a side of cucumber salad. Or I whip up lacy crepes and eat them with plenty of sour cream and cherry jam.  These dishes are old childhood favorites, and they always make me feel better. But over the years, I’ve added a new set of comfort foods to my repertoire. They range from my mother-in-law’s Indian sour lentil soups and vegetable stews to Vietnamese grilled pork on rice. And anything made with miso immediately qualifies as comfort food.

salmon-miso1

What is it about miso that makes it so comforting? It might be its intensely savory flavor or the velvety, suave aftertaste; I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I love it. Miso paste is made by fermenting soybeans and/or other grains with salt and koji, a special starter. The result is the unique vitamin and protein rich condiment that has been used in Japan for centuries. The proportions of soybeans to other grains in the miso recipe will determine its flavor and color. There are numerous miso types, but the white (shiro) and red (aka) varieties are the most common. White miso, which is really golden yellow in hue, contains more rice than soybeans and has a mild, sweet flavor. By contrast, the soybean rich red miso is meaty, bold and salty.

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