“What is with Americans and apple cider? I don’t get it. Everyone seems to drink it at this time of year.” My friend D said the other day.
“Well, it’s delicious, and you can only get real apple cider in the fall. It’s seasonal… so I guess when cider is available people stock up!” I answered.
As noted previously, I currently live in New England and have spent most of my life living in the Northeast of the US where the leaves change color, the winters are long, and we take maple syrup very seriously (perhaps I’ll talk about this another day).
Growing up, autumn was always a great season… a time when you could pull out your sweaters and scarves to protect against the encroaching winter chill, but still run around outside under the red, orange and yellow leafed trees before the snow started falling and a bit of “cabin fever” set in. My childhood was filled with raking leaves (and jumping into piles of them!); going to the apple orchard to pick fresh apples to make apple crisp, apple pies, and apple sauce; picking just the right pumpkin from the pumpkin patch to carve jack-o-lanterns for Halloween; drinking fresh apple cider (especially hot cider on a cold day!); and last but not least eating Halloween candy, including one of my favorites–the mellowcreme pumpkins!
The months of September and October are now quite busy with Nepali holidays, but it isn’t too busy to take time to enjoy some (Northeastern/New England) American culture as well. This includes boiling hot apple cider with cinnamon and drinking it by the mug full when it gets chilly outside… so when D wanted to know, “what is up with apple cider?” I promptly offered him a steaming mug. Luckily he enjoyed it.
Another fall tradition we enjoy is carving jack-o-lanternsand roasting the pumpkin seeds for a snack (see recipe HERE). I’m a little late this year, but tonight I picked up two pumpkins (for myself and AS) so that we can carve them on Friday night in time for Halloween. Which reminds me, while sipping hot cider with D a few nights ago, P was looking up random facts on the internet. One fact he noted while we were making dinner was, “did you know 90% of pumpkins are used for decoration?” (although, full disclosure, I couldn’t find this statistic again later on)
“That must be an American statistic,” D said, “in Nepal we would never decorate with a pumpkin. People would eat it!” This reflected P’s recent thoughts on the topic as well.
Although P and I have carved a pumpkin or two every year for the past few years, starting with pumpkin carving on Halloween as a “cultural activity” for international students back in college, and although he always seems to enjoy it while we are doing the actual carving, lately he seems to think the process is a bit silly. His argument is– you spend $5 or more on a carve-able pumpkin, then you leave it outside until Halloween, and after Halloween it is all dried and gross, so you wouldn’t want to eat it. After Halloween there is nothing to do with it but throw it away. What a waste. (Perhaps he has also come to this conclusion because we bought our pumpkin really really early last year and it was a little moldy by Halloween?)
“We eat the seeds!” I point out, but P is not persuaded– “you spend so much for so little food.”
“It’s not about the food,” I explain, “it’s about the ‘ritual’ of it. Picking out the perfect pumpkin. Deciding how you want to carve it. Making your own creative (or maybe not so creative) design. Lighting it up for Halloween. It’s all part of it. You are paying for that too…”
The other big event of the fall (besides the holidays of course) is the annual apple picking. This year we have been on the road a lot, so we might not get the chance to go (plus the weather is getting colder here more quickly this year, so it might shorten the season), but it’s a tradition to go to the apple orchard, and pick a large bag (or in my youth, a giant basket) of apples. Usually at the orchard you can get candy or caramel apples, apple cider (of course), and cider doughnuts. To fill you in on some “regional culture” according to Wikipedia, in parts “of the country where apples are widely grown, especially the Northeast and Midwest states, “cider donuts” are a harvest season specialty, especially at orchards open to tourists where they can be served fresh. Cider donuts are a cake donut with apple cider in the batter. The use of cider affects both the texture and flavor, resulting in a denser, moister product. They are often coated with granulated, powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.”
Afterward the orchard visit you make lots of apple things (I’ll stick some recipes up here later), and eat apples until you grow kind of sick of them… but that is part of it too.
I’ve spent the fall away from the Northeast on several occasions before. I remember the autumn I was in Kenya, my paternal grandmother sent me some dried colorful maple leaves in the mail (probably breaking some sort of international law about sending foreign flora to another land, but she meant well). The leaves made me so nostalgic for home. If I ever leave the Northeast and live elsewhere or abroad, it will be one of the major things that I would miss.
So with that said, I wanted to wish you all a happy fall and a Happy Halloween!