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It's Fall, Y'all!
A defense of pumpkin spice, and some great fall recipes to usher in the season
It’s fall, y’all!
That’s right, folks—tomorrow marks the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the official end of summer and start of fall.
Of course, you might be forgiven for thinking that fall had already started, especially if you’ve walked inside a grocery store at any point after about mid-August. Despite the fact that it’s still scorching-hot in many parts of the country—the forecast high here in Louisville today is 95 degrees Fahrenheit—many of us have been deep in fall’s thrall for weeks now already.
The pumpkin beers showed up in early August, followed soon thereafter by the displays of cider and cider-related producted. As the beginning of the school year approached, more seasonal products materialized in waves, an end-of-Avengers: Endgame montage of speciously-pumpkin-spiced items appearing on the shelves, everything from pumpkin breakfast cereal to pumpkin coffee creamer to pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls.
By the time Labor Day rolled around, there were already heaving bins of carving pumpkins outside my grocery store, a merchandising move presumably meant to capitalize on parents like me acceding to the fervent demands of their excitable young children to carve a Jack-O-Lantern now and then having to refresh their soon-to-be-rotten pumpkins three more times prior to Halloween. That’s repeat business, folks.
Oh, and speaking of Halloween?
It’s everywhere already, despite there being a full six weeks remaining until Trick-or-Treat. Never mind the calendar, there are animatronic ghosts and gigantic skeletons and inscrutable-to-me-but-not-my-son Minecraft costumes ready for purchase right now, a perilous proposition considering that my kids are still liable to change their minds on what they want to be this year three more times before the big night.
(My daughter has already cycled through Astronaut, Bat, Eevee—it’s a Pokémon, I think—Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Squirrel.)
So, yeah. The equinox might be tomorrow evening, but fall’s been mobilized for weeks.
Can I let you in on a little secret, though?
I love it.
I love all of it.
I am a shameless appreciator of all things fall. I relish their arrival, even as they seem to come earlier and earlier each year.
I’m clear-eyed about the fact that much of this is pure seasonal theater; with the exception of the actual pumpkins and perhaps the cider, the vast majority of these “seasonal” items are things that could easily be produced and consumed year-round, but instead are stocked on store shelves for only a few months, a manufactured mimicry of actual seasonality.
I don’t care, though.
Summer is a lovely time, an admission I’ve only grudgingly come to recently, speaking as a sweaty man who’s never cared much for the heat. It’s a time of unraveling, of family vacations and days by the pool or beach, of languid baseball games and cookouts and blessedly-late sunsets. Sure, I had to work all summer—as I imagine most of you did, too—but in the long light of a late summer evening, I could squint and picture a life without schedules or deadlines or consequences, the kind of life my children happily lived from May to August.
After three months of coming apart, though, I’m ready to put things back together.
That’s what fall represents to me; a welcome reconvening.
The children are back in school—not a moment too soon, might I add—and they’re already learning things that seemed out of their reach in the spring. Sports take on a sharper focus, with baseball’s somnambulant summer stumbling transformed by a sudden infusion of urgency, whether it be for the postseason or the record books. Even work takes on a sharper focus, as vacations wrap up and year-end goals become short-term targets.
It might be counterintuitive to view fall—a season in which everything around us eventually browns and dies—as a time of rebirth, but that’s how I see it. Summer was just our temporary chrysalis; fall is the time to finally find out what the year will emerge as in the end.
And, of course, I love the food.
I love soups and stews and braises and chilis and all the things that sound just abhorrent in the heat of summer but become fervent missions of slow-cookery the first time a morning low dips below 60 degrees.
It might be hot today, but I’ll take solace in all the special-edition-orange packaging lining the grocery store shelves. Fall is here. I’ve been waiting all year for it.
What are you most looking forward to this fall, whether seasonal or personal? Share in the comments!
Now, let’s talk fall recipes.
I’ve got some terrific fall food lined up for you over the next couple of months, things I’m very excited to share with you over the Fridays to come. In the meantime, I’d like to look back at a few hits from autumns past here on The Action Cookbook Newsletter:
Fresh figs, blue cheese, and carefully-caramelized onions come together in one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made, the perfect transition from late summer to early fall.
Maybe it’s the scraps of German in my heritage; maybe it’s just the Cleveland native in me. Whatever it is, it doesn’t get any better in my book than slow-cooked pork, sausage, potatoes and sauerkraut, and this dish is an absolute favorite.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you: this one started as a joke, and then it turned into something legitimately delicious. In recognition of the fact that “pumpkin spice” doesn’t really have anything to do with pumpkin, aside from both being present in holiday pies, I created a pungent spice blend for seasoning a pressure-cooked pork stew that turned out absolutely delightful (and would also work great in a slow cooker).
I love chili in all its forms, even its most questionable regional ones. For this batch, however, I tasked myself with coming up with a 100% vegan chili that would be as thick and rich as any meat-based one and would do so without falling back on faux-meat substitutes. The result was incredible, and one that’s become a fall staple for me.
This recipe might not be the most photogenic, but it makes up for it with an incredible punch of flavor—a sweet-salty-savory warm dip that’s perfect for around the fire pit or pre-gaming on a brisk Halloween evening.
Of course, this is just a small selection from the deep, deep archives of The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
Every Friday—whether it’s fall, winter, spring or summer—I share new recipes here, along with cocktails, book/music/other entertainment recommendations, and much more. I’ve been doing this for more than three years here, and that’s 160-some-odd digests of good stuff just like this. The whole archive is open to paying subscribers, something you can become for only $5/month or $50/year, a small price to pay for three doses of great content in your inbox each and every week.
I’m really looking forward to rolling out the things I’ve got planned this fall, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy them.
Now, you’ve got about 30 hours left of summer. Go enjoy it!
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)