season of mists and pumpkins

Autumn always makes me want to cook. I love autumn foods, the spicy, hearty flavors and the shades of red and orange, and I had a bit of a cooking fit today.

I made applesauce, which is the easiest thing in the world to make. I hate the taste and texture of store-bought applesauce from a jar–or, worse, a tube. There is something suspiciously unnatural and disconcerting about all that pasty yellow sogginess, but fresh, homemade applesauce is wonderful. The most time-consuming part is peeling the apples, but peeling apples is like kneading bread or caramelizing onions: The time and patience required are part of why the process is enjoyable, as well as a perfect opportunity to spend some productive time daydreaming. Use a small, sharp knife. That’s the only trick you need to know.

I don’t know that I’ve ever used a recipe to make applesauce. Peel and core some apples, and chop them up. Put them in a pot on the stove with a little bit of water. Add a bit of sugar if they’re too tart; it depends on what kind of apples you use. Toss in some cinnamon in stick or powder form, whatever you have on hand. Today I used four big, somewhat tart Gala apples, about 2/3 cup of water, about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, two sticks of cinnamon.

Bring it to a boil, turn the temperature down, cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the apples are soft enough to squish with a fork. Remove the cinnamon sticks and mash up the apples with a fork, or a potato masher, or any mashing-capable kitchen utensil of your choice. That’s it. Now you get to eat it!

I also made pumpkin cream cheese muffins, from this recipe at the food blog Two Tarts, with small modifications because our spice selection is somewhat lacking (I used only cinnamon and nutmeg) and because we live at about 6,500 feet above sea level and therefore have to adjust all chemically leavened baked goods. (In this recipe, I used 3/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda instead of 1/2, no change in the amount of flour, and it worked fine.) I stuck the cream cheese in the freezer while I was mixing up the rest because it’s a warm day today.

My taste test tells me the muffins are delicious and will be perfect with coffee for breakfast in the morning, and now that I have baked something with pumpkin and spices, the season has properly begun.

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