fall tastes: 10 posts

Persimmon Toast

My husband first encountered a persimmon during his first visit to my family home. My stepfather handed it to him and simply said, “Just eat it like an apple.”  For some strange reason, my stepfather prefers persimmons unripe and hard. But my husband wasn’t convinced, as the hard flesh was unyielding and his mouth felt coated with sticky cotton.  It took him a few hours to get rid of the bitter, tannic sensation. The same willingness to please his new in-laws also left my husband unable to refuse yet another shot of vodka, but the consequences of that lasted into the next day. Imagine his surprise when he finally tried a ripe persimmon and discovered that it was a juicy fruit with a delicate perfume.

persimmons-market-japanpersimmon toast2a

There are thousands varieties of persimmons, but Fuyu and Hachiya are the most common ones. Fuyu (top left photo) looks like a squat orange tomato, and it can be eaten when it’s hard. It’s sweet and crunchy, with a distinctive flavor of dates and plums. The Hachiya variety (in the photos below) is pointy and elongated, and it’s the kind that tormented my poor husband. As he will tell you, when hard and unripe it tastes even worse than a green banana–bitter and chalky. But give it a few days to soften and it turns sweet and luscious.

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Autumn in Brussels : Pork Loin with Peaches and Thyme

Autumn here in Belgium begins overnight. After the short interlude of an Indian summer, you wake up to an overcast, gray day and feel that the clouds are only a few inches above your head. The roses might still be in full bloom, the daytime temperature is still comfortable, but you already know that the rainy season is here. It’s telling that in the old Bruxellois dialect, there are numerous words for rain. It can be a delicate mist that looks innocuous but soaks you to the bone within minutes. It can be a lashing, cold rain that makes umbrellas obsolete, or it might just be a nagging drizzle that makes me feel sad for no particular reason and ponder the wisdom of bears that go into hibernation for the winter.

Since the winter here is nine months long, hibernation isn’t really an option. I’ve learned to do all of my chores on foot and shop at the open air markets which are run year round in each neighborhood, rain or shine. Brussels is made up of 19 communes, and if you love markets, you can explore different areas of the city based on your specific shopping needs. On Saturday, you can pour over the antique books at the market held at the Place du Sablon. On Sunday, you can buy spices and vegetables at the sprawling le Marché du Midi or walk along Rue de Brabant and feel as if you’re in Morocco. While les grandes surfaces (supermarkets) offer stiff competition, the vibrancy of the open air markets even on the dreariest of days is appealing.

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Autumn Perfumes : Pasta with Roasted Hazelnuts and Pancetta

Even before I saw the leaves turning golden in the park, I smelled autumn in the air. The sun may have been generous and warm, and the summer visitors still packed the squares in Brussels, but the autumnal perfume was unmistakable–a nutty-musty melange of decaying leaves and wilting flowers. The anticipation of long dark evenings and bitter cold is enough to make anyone dread fall in the northern countries, but as the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin wrote, “Autumn attracts me like a neglected girl among her sisters.” Of course, then in the course of his poem he goes on to compare the beauty of fall to that of a girl dying from consumption, but that’s the complex Slavic soul for you. For my part, I love fall for its golden light and serenity as well as for its seasonal tastes.pasta-hazelnuts2

A big pile of feathery green leaves and tawny shells at the Friday market last week caught my attention. “Noisettes Fraîches,” said the chalk drawn sign, and it took me a moment to realize that I was looking at green hazelnuts. Pushkin taps into my nostalgia for my childhood days and green hazelnuts are another reminder. I pillaged many a hazelnut shrub in my grandmother’s garden in search of tasty, not quite ripe nuts and have fallen many a time trying to get to the higher branches.

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Autumnal Scents and Tastes

 persimmons

The enjoyment of delicious food and beautiful scents are among life’s most wonderful pleasures, and in fact, these pleasures are tightly linked. Imagine holding a ripe yellow pear in your hand. Bring it to your nose and inhale the scent of its skin. The rush of fruity notes with their lemon and banana nuances will hit you almost immediately. Now take a bite. As you swallow, the caramel and milky notes become more evident. Finally, you might even notice some lingering almond nougat sweetness. Voilà, a fragrance pyramid on the tip of your tongue! To celebrate such simple pleasures, I would like to share some highlights of autumnal scents and flavors, seasonal delights that make me forget shortened days, colder nights and rainy mornings. Whether these pleasures include a luscious chestnut montblanc, quince stewed till it turns ambery-red, decadent persimmon jelly, julienned turnips tossed with pomegranate seeds or a slice of pumpkin flan, they are as much about fragrance as about flavor. I hope that this list along with suggested flavor affinities (some of which I found during my perfumery raw material training) will provide some inspiration to explore new pairings.

Quinces

I find quince to be the most marvelously perfumed fruit, rivaling fresh strawberries and peaches. Its fragrance is a combination of violet, rose, caramel, apricot, and licorice with a hint of vanilla, sandalwood and jasmine. While it cannot be eaten raw, cooked quince, which turns from ivory to ruby red, offers plenty of culinary possibilities. Toss peeled halves in lemon juice, cover with a scented sugar syrup (1 cup sugar, 2 cups water, 2 cloves, vanilla, which is enough for 4 quinces) and either simmer it gently or bake it at 300F till the fruit softens. Let it cool in its juices and store in the fridge. Prepared this way, quince can be eaten Turkish style garnished with clotted cream and chopped walnuts. It is also delicious used in pies, crumbles, and sorbets; served along with cheese, yogurt or ice cream, roast duck or lamb.

Flavor affinities: sweet spices (cinnamon, clove, vanilla, nutmeg, star anise), cardamom, bay leaf, dried figs, apples, sheep milk cheese, rosewater, brown sugar, caramel, brandy, pistachios, walnuts.

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Red Kidney Bean Salad Georgian Style (Lobio) : Flavor Recipe

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” said the great French epicure and gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. If I were to divine this via my great grandmother’s recipe books, the answer would not be simple. Contrary to the popular stereotypes of Eastern European food as dense and heavy fare of cabbage and potatoes, generalization are impossible to make. Certainly, 70 years of Soviet rule have made an impact upon the cuisine in all of the former Soviet republics, but even before the revolution of 1917, the regional differences were quite pronounced and the cross-influences distinctly felt. The picture is even more complex if one considers the class differences in terms of food preferences. The yellowed pages of the notebooks which my great grandmother kept ever since she got married in the 1930s contain a fascinating array: poppy seed rolls, plum stewed meats and sour cherry vareniki (boiled stuffed dumplings) reflecting classical Ukrainian fare; walnut cream tortes alluding to influences from the former Austro-Hungarian provinces of Ukraine; and spicy meat and eggplant dishes betraying the love affair with the vibrant cuisine of Georgia, an affair that started since Georgia became a part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. What better way to understand the culture than to eat through it!

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  • OnWingsofSaffron in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: Oh, I have no qualms whatsoever. I bought the product, it’s mine; it’s not a unique treasure that you’ll spoil forever for wo/mankind; the end-result is better sometimes. For instance,… April 1, 2020 at 1:05pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: I’m not sure whether it’ still available: “Peau de Pêche” by Keiko Mecheri. I thought it was quite wonderful, more peach skin than the fruit. And quite elegant too! For… April 1, 2020 at 12:55pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: As Sebastian mentions: Hiram Green‘ Slowdive. I find it absolutely sumptious with a long, delicious drydown—Slowdive indeed! April 1, 2020 at 12:46pm

  • Maria in Recommend Me a Perfume : March 2020: Summer favorite when I don’t want to offend anyone is Shalimar with Goutal Eau d’Hadrien (I was so proud to see that Jean-Claude Ellena recommends it, too, while I was… April 1, 2020 at 9:57am

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