Living in the Pacific Northwest means mild winters, not too hot and humid summers, pleasant springs that mean short sleeves in February sometimes, and ALWAYS rain once October hits. Last Sunday was no exception. The last day of September, perhaps the last weekend to hold onto any hope of an extended Indian Summer, and the first heavy rainstorm of the year. The morning started out mild enough, cloudy but not too bad, and I decided it was time to bring out the ladder and harvest the apples from our two trees. With the rainy spring we had, germination had been poor, so there was nowhere near the volume of last year’s bumper crop (200 lb), but I still managed to take about 25 lb of decent apples off of the trees, with a comparable amount of cracked and scruffy ones left for the birds, the squirrels and the compost.
One look at the pool proved the day had come that I dread all year: For some reason, (in all likelihood the same fleeting hope) I always insist on waiting until it’s been three weeks since the last swim, and the temperature has plummeted to single digit temperatures (Celsius) before deciding it’s time to winterize the pool. This means, among other things, a trip inside the frigid water to remove the stairs and a thorough scrub of the walls. Sensing the impending black clouds rolling in and knowing that the task wouldn’t be any more pleasant with rain pelting down as I struggled to pass the awkward stairs up to the rest of my clan, I dove in, and tried to make as hasty a retreat as possible.
Thoroughly chilled to a temperature fit for a white wine, I hopped into the hot shower and began to think about dinner. First something warm for a snack with a coffee, and since I’d been promising that with my newfound schedule of being home more would translate into more baking, decided on some pecan sticky buns. As I do with most things, I consulted a few well respected texts, examined the common traits to the recipes and then made a recipe using the recurring themes and ratios.
Out came the Kitchen Aid, a nice soft egg and butter dough was prepared and set to rest, covered gently. The glaze was quickly boiled together using half honey and half maple syrup, as I didn’t have a great deal of either, and poured into a large pyrex pan. I had just over a cup of pecans in stock, so they were lightly toasted, chopped, and 2/3 used for a scatter on top of the glaze, the remainder set aside for the filling, creamed quickly with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. I rolled the dough out into a large rectangle, spread the filling, and sliced into thick slices which were then arranged nicely onto the glaze. I wrapped the project up and left it to rise, and headed out into the rain to scour for the rest of the dinner.
Being a week before Thanksgiving, I came across a nice half ham and decided that would be fitting for such a miserable day, and provide for ham and eggs on Monday, sandwiches for the rest of the week, and maybe a soup the following. What else, but candied yams to accompany, and I figured I’d make baked potatoes as well. A few beans that were looking decent at the market were procured, and since the morning’s harvest had yielded a bushel of fruit, a deep dish apple pie for dessert.
Back at home, fresh coffee in hand, the buns were ready for the oven, so in they went, giving me a bit over a half hour to make the pie. My favourite traditional pie crust (made with lard) was assembled, a few pounds of the apples selected, peeled, and sliced, and a double crust pie came together rather quickly. By this time, the aroma of yeast, nuts, butter, and several different sweeteners was filling the kitchen, and the pie graciously traded places with the sticky buns in the oven. One always has to remember that no matter how much the temptation, the glaze on the bottom of the bun pan is an extremely hot and volatile mix of sugar and other deliciousness, and must be allowed to settle for a few minutes before inverting them onto a tray to be torn apart and devoured quickly.
The coffee and buns having done the trick and restored regular body temperature, I prepared the sweet potatoes, pricking them with a paring knife and settling the tray in the oven to bake. About an hour, until they are soft and little bubbles of caramel are oozing from the knife wounds should suffice, to be scooped out (it’s actually more like squeezed out) and mashed with brown butter and nutmeg. The ham was lightly scored on top, and a quick glaze prepared, basically something slightly acidic (I had white wine sitting there), something sweet (honey in my case) and a bit of mustard. It makes a rather thin glaze, which is nice, as it then coats the ham as it bakes with a thin veneer of sweet and spice.
Once the pie was out, the ham again filled the void in the oven and set out on its journey from the ordinary to the sublime. I usually will give it an hour before the glaze starts to go on, to prevent it getting too dark, and then apply it in thin coats every 15 minutes, until it’s gone. The whole process usually takes a couple of hours, and then once it’s had a good half hour rest, thin slices across the grain are enough to satisfy completely.
Duly satisfied, at least an hour was required before tucking into the pie, and more than worth the wait. The sound of the rain pounding on the back porch, warm cinnamon and soft fruit in the mouth, it doesn’t seem to matter that it’s half a year before the start of another spring and summer.