At some point during the past few weeks, despite what the calendar says, autumn has wrapped its chilled fingers around the year 2010 and promised to stay whether we like it or not. As southern portions of the United States have continued to bake — albeit at slightly lower temperatures — the crisp, cool breeze of fall has swathed Canada and the northern U.S. and has begun to creep slowly south. Maple trees have been caught changing their colors in the broad light of day along well travelled roads, school buses have started showing up at the end of driveways cloaked in the darkness of mornings once light and sunny, the livestock have started to grow fuzzy coats in preparation for colder days and nights, acorns have dropped, squirrels have begun collecting them.
Here we’ve already broken out a few of fall’s old standbys; my favorite black sweatshirt — one that is older than I am — is back in use, next to the front door are the tall, waterproof chore boots that are required to step outside this time of year, extra throws grace the arms of our sofa and favorite chairs, candles burn almost around the clock giving off a warm glow. Of all the things that make a welcome reemergence in our lives each year however, I can’t honestly say any of these are my favorite. That special place in my heart is reserved for the hot, filling comfort foods that we depend on to get us through the dark, cold days of fall and winter.
I tend to gravitate towards one-pot dishes for comfort. Chili, goulash — ours a variation of the German version of the dish, in a thick tomato sauce with pasta — Manhattan Clam Chowder, Lentil Soup, a traditional beef stew with carrots and onions and celery and potatoes. I like to pair dishes heavy on broth and sauce with cheddar biscuits, rolls, breadsticks; a slave to fresh-from-the-oven carbs, I am.
Of course, I would be remiss not to include, aside from their hearty nature, one of the reasons I love these dishes is their ease of preparation. I may make my living in the artisan, local and homemade food scenes but I am also human and far from perfect. Like everyone else I have a family, a job (or two) and enough responsibilities and engagements to keep me busy until eternity. The value of convenience is not lost on me.
From simple jars of berry jams that make a PB&J what it is, to the home-canned tomatoes that make the base of so many of our winter meals, we’ve found that cooking shortcuts and “farm fresh” foods needn’t be mutually exclusive entities. As we find ourselves trudging deeper and deeper into autumn be on the lookout for canned and freezable goods at your local farmer’s market; ones you can put up for use on busy weeknights and rushed weekends, ones that can make life both easier and more enjoyable.
Some of our favorites are soups — like the Maryland Crab Soup from Angelina’s on Foodzie, featured at the top of this column — Chilis, both beef and turkey, made with tomatoes preserved at the height of the season right in our own kitchen; Tamales that can be taken from freezer to steamer to table and tarts — homemade-type hot pockets — both like those pictured above from the Tucson Tamale Company and Little Pots & Pans Co., also on Foodzie; and last but certainly not least, single serving vegetables and fruits frozen in reusable dishes or vacuum packed bags such as spinach, summer squash, zuchinni, eggplant and berries that can be added to just about any recipe for a healthy little kick.
What are your favorite autumn and winter convenience foods that don’t have to come from the big box store or supermarket?