Friday, 7 March 2008

Cookies with an Autumn Glow

Autumn has just begun in Melbourne. I welcome it warmly. I love that foods come and go during the year with the changing of the seasons. I think about our ancestors who has no choice but to eat seasonal food. How glad they must have been to find asparagus or corn or brussels sprouts come into season when there was no option of having them during the rest of the year. I know spring is the time that is traditionally seen as bringing glorious new harvests after winters paltry offerings but I love autumn.

Spring brings frivolous pleasures but autumn offers inner warmth and depth – much like a childhood bookshelf of Enid Blyton's stories and Mary Grant Bruce’s Billagong books is fun, but not as interesting as the eclectic library of classics, mysteries and histories that have been gathered over years of learning. Maybe I am trying to say I want to take pleasure in the warmth of my oven, to have stews simmering and bread baking in my kitchen – meals that take their time to develop intense flavours. But it is more than that.

As a child, summer holidays would stretch out forever. Particularly in Australia where, once summer has really taken hold, it is the start of the year - the end of the year seems so far away. The change of season at the start of March brings the recognition that the year is passing us by. The autumn leaves begin to fall from the trees, reminding us that life is all too short. Winter will soon be here bringing scarcity. Nothing lasts.

This is what our ancestors knew. ‘Summer's lease hath all too short a date'. Our ancestors knew they wouldn’t have the same fruit and vegetables all year around. And with that knowledge came an appreciation for what they had. The good crops must be enjoyed because they come to an end. The bad must be endured because change will come. This too shall pass.

This is why I like eating seasonal food. It is not a strength of mine - I love the bounty. But the fruit that is only available at certain times of the year is so much more special when I can eat it. So I am farewelling the berries and the stone fruit because I know that when next summer comes around I will love it all the more for having being denied it during the months in between. And I welcome apples which are now crisp and delicious.

Of course, I am thankful that some foods are always with us. Chocolate for example! But even choc chip cookies can be tweaked to be seasonal. Which is what I did this week. I made some choc chip cookies with pumpkin, spice and dried cranberries. They are delicious and seem just right for this time of year. I remember a friend, Mindy, commenting last year that her pumpkin choc chip cookies were cakey. I agree, but happily so, as I prefer my cookies more cakey than crisp. The pumpkin gives the cookies a deep pleasing orange colour. These are cookies to comfort and warm me as the weather cools and becomes gloomy grey. Perfect snacks for autumn days.

Grey Ghost Pumpkin Cookies
(adapted from… source unrecorded)
Makes 4 dozen

2 cups plain flour
1½ cup quick cooking oats (I used rolled oats)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
180g butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
½ cup raw sugar
1 egg
1 cup mashed cooked pumpkin (300-350g)
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Add pumpkin (it should be cooled but mine wasn’t really which may have contributed to a very soft mixture). Add dry ingredients and choc chips. Drop teaspoonfuls of mixture onto a lined or greased baking tray and bake 20-25 minutes. (The recipe actually suggests dropping ¼ cups of batter and using a spatula to make ghost shapes -I just made normal cookies.)

On the Stereo:
Bairns: Rachel Unthank and the Winterset.

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