31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Fall
Plaid fabric has long been associated with fall for a very good reason: it’s warm and cozy as the temperature drops! Weather in Scotland, where plaid originated, can notoriously blustery and harsh. During the 1500s, a “plaid” simply meant a kilt or blanket meant to keep the wearer warm. “Tartan” refers to a specific, unique pattern in the weave of a plaid that signified a particular clan, group, or home territory . . . “team colors,” you might say. Highlanders wore, and still wear, their tartan-bearing plaids with great pride. In fact, the wearing of tartan was banned by the English government for a time in the 18th century, as it was considered sign of rebellion against British rule.
During the 19th century, American importers and manufacturers applied the term “plaid” to any tartan-patterned fabric. “Buffalo plaid,” the red-and-black fabric long associated with lumberjacks and other hardy outdoorsmen, is distinctly American, first produced by the Woolrich company in the mid-1800s. Oregon’s Pendleton Woolen Mills began mass-producing their iconic buffalo-plaid shirt for men in 1924 and for women in 1949.
Plaid enjoyed another flirtation with rebellion in the 1990s, when it was favored by grunge rockers.
The fashion world has once again proclaimed plaid “new” again. But this classic never really goes out of style.
Autumn is the perfect time to take a walk, whether through the woods or down a city street lined with colorful oaks and maples. Walking is good for you! In Personality Unlimited (1941), Veronica Dengel says, “Walking is good exercise for the legs, and when indulged in out of doors, encourages deep breathing and better circulation.” While Miss Dengel agrees that strolling on city streets is “better than nothing,” she goes on to say, “Hiking should be done in as clear, fresh air as you can find. . . . Exercise will help to improve the digestion of your food and promote better assimilation of it, so that you get more nourishment from everything you eat.”
I’d say a walk in the woods nourishes more than the body . . . it nourishes the mind as well. When I walk, I let my mind wander where it will . . . to think, to pray, to work out some knotty problem in my novel or my life. In Younger By the Day, Victoria Moran recalls a particular walk she took one October day. “In the company of squirrels and skateboarders, toddlers and Scrabble players, students and lovers, the arch and the fountain, I walked through the park. I read a plaque about Garibaldi, bought water from a guy with a cart, and then sat on a bench and watched and listened. I felt more alive than I had in a really long time.”
The deep woods may not yield quite the same things as a city park does. The squirrels are there in force, but I see no skateboarders or Scrabble players. Just a chipmunk and some deer, perhaps an eagle if I’m lucky. But what Victoria Moran says next still resonates with me. “Sometimes, to remember when you’re old and revel in right this minute, walk in the part–or something on that order. Do it before the winter comes. Once you get in the habit, you just might want to do it then, too.”
Lace up your walking shoes. There’s a world of wonder out there.
When the weather’s dreary and chilly, nothing beats a baked apple for comfort. In her book One’s Company, author Barbara Holland describes a baked apple as the perfect remedy [f]or October, when the days are getting shorter and your coat smells of mothballs.” While she mentions that an apple (with butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar) can be baked in the microwave in four minutes, she notes, correctly, that “it smells better that way and warms up the kitchen” to bake it in a 350-degree oven for an hour.
If you want to do it great-great-grandma’s way, here’s a baked-apple recipe from 1917:
8 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Select apples of uniform size. Wash and core. Place in a pan; cover the bottom with water. Fill each cavity with sugar, a dash of powdered cinnamon, and a tiny lump of butter. Bake for thirty minutes in a hot* oven, basting occasionally. Serve around a platter of pork chops.
I suppose you could add raisins to it, as the photo suggests, or chopped nuts, or even a piece of caramel candy to make sort of a hot caramel apple. But I’m a purist and like mine with the ingredients above, plus nutmeg, plus a dollop of real whipped cream. Yum!
*(Note: A “hot” oven would be about 400-425 degrees Farenheit or 200-220 degrees Celsius.Back in 1917, much baking was done in a wood-burning oven without precise temperature controls. My Grandma Ruby, an accomplished baker, could tell when an oven was ready by opening the door and thrusting her hand into it. I don’t recommend this method, but for Grandma, the way the heat felt on her skin told her what she needed to know.)
I have a glass-fronted shadowbox that I like to keep on our mantel. In the last few years, I’ve started changing out the items in the shadowbox to reflect a seasonal theme.This is a really fun way to fill a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon.
The photo above shows my autumn shadowbox “in process.” I simply gather scraps of paper, bits and bobs that remind me of fall, photos from magazines, etc., then play around with them until I’m pleased with how they look. Then I glue or pin them in place. This shadowbox includes assorted scraps of paper left over from card-making, a few leaf embellishments, foliage, pumpkin and fruit stickers, and a bit of extraneous sheet music. In about a month, I’ll exchange these items with Christmas-themed ones. It’s a low-stress way to use up scraps and add a little bit of seasonal decor to your home.
~ English Proverb
For many of us, the taste of apple cider is the taste of autumn. Available in both both nonalcoholic and alcoholic (hard cider) varieties, cider-drinking has been a hallmark of harvest time for centuries.
The making of cider dates back to Roman times, and became especially popular in England following the Norman conquest in the eleventh century. In areas where the climate was less than ideal for growing grapes, fermented (alcoholic) cider was often a replacement for wine. Cider was also easy and inexpensive to make, thus a well-loved harvest-time drink of the common people. Even the humblest farm boasted one or two apple trees. Colonists brought cider-making to America. and it was a very popular drink among the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries. In a letter to a friend, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Malt liquor and cider are my table drinks.”
What’s the difference between apple cider and apple juice? Experts hold various opinions on the exact distinctions, but most agree that juice has been strained of pulp and solid matter, while cider has not.
Cider served plain is delicious, but spiced cider is a sip of heaven. You can buy spiced cider ready-made, but for real cider-power (and a house that smells heavenly), it’s easy to make it yourself. Heat a gallon of cider over low heat (or in a slow cooker) with cinnamon sticks and cloves mixed in, and even a bit of brown sugar if you like it very sweet (I leave the sugar out). You can also drop in a cut-up apple or orange for extra zip.
I don’t have much in the way of autumn decorations–just a few candles, leaf garlands, a leafy wreath for the door. Historically the homes I’ve lived in have had limited storage space and thus not a lot of room to store seasonal decorations. But frankly it doesn’t take all that much to celebrate fall’s beauty and embellish a room with seasonally-appropriate grace notes. Victoria editor Phyllis Hoffmann DePiano, over at the Ribbon in My Journal blog, offers up some great ideas for vintage-inspired fall decorating, such as making the most of the warmth of wood and putting family heirlooms to good use. I might have to take a second look at that soup tureen I keep tucked away!
Most American home cooks have a favorite recipe for pumpkin pie, perhaps handed down through generations. I confess (gulpingly) that I’ve never made one from scratch. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, making the pie has always seemed to be someone else’s job. But this year, I’m planning to try my hand at it, perhaps using this old-fashioned (1917) recipe from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband. As with all the recipes in this charming vintage cookbook, the pumpkin pie recipe comes with a little story about newlyweds Bettina and Bob, who served individual pies (placed on doilies) at their Halloween party–an extravaganza that included bobbing for apples, making popcorn balls, and roasting marshmallows over candles!
Bettina’s Pumpkin Pie (makes 8 individual pies)
For the Crusts:
2 cups flour
2/3 cup lard
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
Cut the lard into the flour and salt. Add sufficient water to make a stiff dough on a floured board. Roll into shape one-fourth inch thick. Place in tin muffin pans, making individual pies, filling with the following mixture and baking 30 minutes in a moderate oven [I’m thinking “moderate” means 350 degrees F. jl].
For the Filling:
1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin (or pumpkin puree)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix the ingredients in the order given, and fill the pie crusts two-thirds full. Bake as above.
All hail the Great Pumpkin! (with a hat-tip to Charles Schulz and Linus)
Autumn’s signature symbol is in its full orange glory this month. Cultivated in the Americas for at least 6,000 years, the pumpkin is very versatile and adapts well to both sweet and savory dishes. It also has delicious seeds to roast and snack on, and makes a wonderful home decoration, indoors or out. What’s not to like?
If you have a hankering to create a pumpkin-flavored edible, don’t automatically reach for the can on the pantry shelf. Try slow-roasting a fresh pumpkin in the oven (after slicing it in half and removing the seeds and “innards”). When the flesh is soft, scoop it into a blender to make a puree to
use in your favorite recipes.
Did you know that the best carving pumpkin is the Howden variety? It only dates back to the 1970s, when a farmer named John Howden developed a pumpkin that was ribbed, smooth, deep orange in color, and durable. So if carving a jack-o-lantern or other decorative use is your goal, that’s the variety to choose. Be warned, however, that it’s not made for eating. If a great pie is what you’re after, choose a different, and perhaps less photogenic, variety.
Here’s a simple recipe for Harvest Pumpkin Soup that we’ve enjoyed. Makes about 10 cups.
6 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1-1/2 cups chopped carrots
5-1/2 cups chicken broth
3 cups pureed pumpkin
1 tsp. salt
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and shallot. Cook for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent.
Add carrots and stir well. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until carrots are tender (about 10 minutes). Add pumpkin and salt, stirring to blend. Cover and cook 10 more minutes. If you like your soup really smooth (we prefer ours a bit chunky), you can puree it in a blender. I use my favorite soup bowls, but I imagine this soup would be darling served in little hollowed-out mini-pumpkins.
“She’s candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel…” Those lyrics to an old Beach Boys song refer to Santa’s sleigh, but I’m talking about the real thing here…candied apples!
I used to wonder why “candy-apple red” was a description of a brilliant, shiny red paint for cars and trucks (and electric guitars–who knew?), until I realized I was mixing up “candied apples” with “caramel apples.” Candied apples are, indeed, a brilliant, shining red, while caramel apples are, well, caramel-colored and dull (but delicious in their own right).
This recipe for candied apples comes from my recent favorite resource, Olive Landers’ Modern Handbook for Girls (1933). (I’ve been quoting from it a lot lately because it’s frankly fabulous and chock-full of simple ideas for vintage fun!).
(Please note that I have not tried making this recipe yet, as I am presently on Day 5 of the Whole 30 food plan and thus not eating sugar. Poor me! If you try it, I’d love to hear your results, especially with a photo!)
Candied Apple on Sticks
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup water
Red paste coloring
Oil or essence of cinnamon
Peppermint or clove
10 or 12 apples
Make a syrup by boiling sugar, water, and corn syrup until it is brittle. Test by dropping a little in cold water. Add a few drops of red paste or liquid coloring while this mixture is cooking. When it is done, remove from the fire and set in a pan of hot water. It may be flavored by a few drops of oil or essence of clove, cinnamon or peppermint.
Select red apples of about the same size and not too large. Insert a wooden skewer into the blossom end of the apple. Hod the apple by the skewer and plunge into the syrup. Remove it quickly and twirl it until the syrup coats the apple and spreads smoothly. Dip the apples the day they are to be used, for the coating is likely to get sticky if it stands. It is not advisable to make a smaller quantity of this syrup, and this quantity will cover from 10 to 12 apples.