A House in the Country

So much is coming down. Gentle leaves drop one by one. Pecans down in the southeast corner of our state are making gentle “plunk, plunk plunk, thud” until the harvester shakes a mighty chorus from the rest. Turnip and beet foliage is drooping towards the earth, a deep green as only foliage touched by cold can be, seeming determined to warm themselves in earth’s bosom. Any tomatoes left in the field cold and lonely are dropping off the vines in a melancholy surrender. Goats are settling down too; milk production is going down and soon they will be dried up for the winter months to wait for spring. All things are settling into the rhythm of the fall, a season of surrender, a season where the searing memories of heat pass into red and golden flourishes rich with recollection and yet quiet and light on the still cold air.

Amidst it all, a house stands in the country. It looks over the Chisolm Creek and is surrounded by brambles. Inside long days are spent considering all things fall. Dining rooms clustered around small wood stoves are filled with dark walnut tables laden with shining stemware and silver placed for the feast. Such rooms await the coming guests, as soft notes of Bill Evans or Stan Getz drift quietly through the air.

As the evening begins, potatoes and hard squash are flushed in the oven’s heat and then washed in maple vinaigrette. Peppers are blistered over flame and filled with sage and cheese. Radishes and apples, crisp and vibrant, perch atop oat crackers topped immodestly by a vain radish leaf. All are cheered and accompanied by Brut Rose from the Italian Veneto. Something near, familiar and known, something far and exotic and exciting.

Inside the house as darkness thickens, small cups of duck bisque, immeasurably rich and heartening, go out in flourishes like the high flocks that mark this season so well. It is offered with a Spanish Garnacha that is full and beautiful with weathered oak and notes of balsamic. Before the air clears from such enjoyment the pasta with Romesco comes. Full of smoke and bitter greens, engaging in its strength and complexity of flavor, it is sure to call any remainder of the Garnacha as a companion to its side.

Lest all should perish in richness, a freshly-made boule with a hint of spelt flour and served with coriander honey citrus butter emerges on the server’s hand. And then quick on its heels come beets, cheese, and Mizuna greens; a light interlude to accompany full conversation and a period of rest in the night’s enjoyment.

In the heart of cold evenings as if to defy the chill, Porchetta is set before the guests, rich and alluring yet paired with faithful turnips. Plucked from the earth when small in size and delicate in flavor, these turnips are by precise alchemy a mix of decadent soft and firmly crisp, thus giving the Porchetta a companion worthy of it. Both are served over rich polenta stirred, stirred and stirred until it yields a velvety texture which only care can produce in something as humble as corn. All is paired with a Pinot from our own Oregon; a chorus pairing rather than a diva, it complements and supports the flavors without ever rising above to take a place in the limelight.

Lastly, as cold still night settles over the landscape and rabbits stir to nibble around the berry canes, a small soufflé arrives. A consummation of dark chocolate, egg, sugar and butter, it is balanced by a water ganache which is bitter and divine in contrast. All is topped by pecans, rosemary, and a Mascarpone cream that shows in stark white above the chocolate below.

In a house in the country surrounded by brambles, guests begin departing in twos and threes. I see one couple pause for a kiss and I feel a sense of fullness about it all. I am glad to serve in a house in the country – glad for all the people who make the preparations and all those who enjoy. And as darkest night comes down, I am thankful for all things fall.

George Elder

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