Kage Baker loved the autumn. Especially the beginning of it – Harvest Home, still warm in the days but with an edge growing to the nights. Reefs of pumpkins, sheafs of corn, and every garden, park and produce market filling with seasonal floral bounty of every sort. Not to mention the expanding candy aisles …
It’s also time to feel the urge to wander. As the season heads toward winter, the desire to fort up and live off your stores gets stronger and stronger – we always did our biggest shopping trips this time of year, filling the freezer and the pantry with goodies for weeks to come. We ‘d go to CostCo, and Kage would hold up her arms in salute as we got out of the car: “Ah, the Paradise of squirrels!” she’d announce. “Come on, let’s gather nuts!”
And she’d revert to four years old, when she had made tea sets from eucalyptus nuts and ground the yellow calyxes of canna lilies into piles of faux corn. For those trips, she’d be Missy Squirrel as we ran up and down the aisles, squeaking with delight and ferocity as we plundered the cornucopia all around. I’d be laughing so hard I could barely walk, as her OCD squirrel-voice narrated our daring raids on Farmer Brown’s fields. Those punks Peter Rabbit and his gang never had a chance …
The walls between the worlds get thin this time of year. When out with Kage, they turned to freakin’ cheesecloth.
We’d drive up into the hills behind Avila Bay, to the best fruit stand in the world – they had dozens of species of apples, each growing in tiny half-acre orchards carved out of the walls of See Canyon. Kage adored them; we’d buy apples 5 and 10 pounds at a time, and use them in every meal for months. Down in Avila Canyon itself was Avila Barn – which had a candy section, and a honey section, and a jams and chutney section, and its own bakery: run, I think, by some lesser fae like brownies, so amazing were the pies and crumbles and crisps and cobbler that came out of there … the best, this time of year, were hand-sized pumpkin pies, sugar-glazed. Do you like Hostess pies? The ones at Avila Barn would make you weep for the realized ideal of the hand-pie.
The stacks of pumpkins there were every colour of the rainbow, and piled higher than Kage’s head. There were turban squash in vermillion and scarlet, Humboldt squash in green and turquoise, pumpkins in every permutation of white and yellow and orange: especially where different strains had been planted too close together, and produced gorgeous monsters of hybrid wonder. And the range of size! From tennis balls to Cinderella coaches, something in every size to allow kids to stagger up to their parents holding as much pumpkin as was physically possible. Pumpkins with little legs and eclipsed faces were always wandering blindly all over the place, pleading with horrified parents to be bought.
And the Barn sold mystery cider, the best in the world: no telling what apples went into it, it was whatever didn’t pass muster for the bins or the bakery. The flavour changed subtly every week. And there were whole apples sliced into wedges and covered in hot caramel sauce. And fresh ears of corn roasted in rock salt and butter. And coffee, and good cold milk …
We’d stock up on everything, and then eat all the way home. It took four or 5 trips to get everything upstairs, and the rest of the afternoon to get it put away. Ah, the joys of excess!
This is why there are bags of apples and pears from the Farmers Market all over the kitchen right now. Also, bags and bags of Halloween candy, which are already being raided for their choicer bits. Fresh eggs from a dear friend being methodically devoured. Pickles and chutneys and olives and jellies and compotes like jars of coloured glass. You can’t walk a straight line on the kitchen floor until we get it all stored for the dark months ahead.
It was grand. It’s still grand. Kage loved that safety, that old-fashioned surety that the winter could come down now and you wouldn’t have to eat the seed corn, or Grandma.
Be safe, Dear Readers. Gather your harvests and your loved ones near, and we’ll all live on apples and corn bread until spring.