(this short story has been developed as an entry into the Sydney Markets Fresh Awards 2019)
That light. That soft golden light of an early April morning signifies that the harsh Aussie summer is officially over. Long days of glaringly bright light and stifling heat is now replaced with the most photogenic light of all – one that seems to shimmer and glow at times to really show off the beauty of nature.
Waking up at the farm, I don’t want to get out of bed. You see it’s a little nippy this morning and I can’t help but question whether the day really needs to start before the cherubs get out of bed. Procrastinating and forgetting about the to-do list for the day, I find myself looking out the window and I see the place with fresh eyes. The wisteria framing the back verandah is as lush as ever…however veins of yellow throughout the leaves have suddenly appeared and will no doubt become more prevalent across the gardens in the coming days and weeks. Along with the maple and birch trees, the nashi pear tree that lives on the island in the middle of the dam is simply showing off – magnificent in its array of reds, oranges and yellows all while making sure to still supply those little fruits which we all adore every autumn!
Even the animals on the farm seem to register the change of season. The goats are now always hungry, longingly looking at the patch for the remnants of any pumpkin or cucumber vines to munch on, or even spent tomato plants with any leftover fruit that happened to still be on the plant. As for the chickens, well the little missies have all of a sudden decided that it’s time to slow down on the egg production and have a well-deserved break after the laying craziness of spring of summer! I smile as they surround my gum boots and eagerly await their bucket of scraps from the kitchen that they will scratch and peck at throughout the day.
As for me, I cannot help but want to bake today – with the crispness of the autumn morning I want to cook something warm and cosy that will fill the kitchen with the aromas of butter and vanilla – however those cravings will have to wait as the day’s meals have to be cooked up first. Half an hour later, I find myself at Harris Farm Markets in Bowral, not really knowing what to cook but waiting to be inspired by the beautiful produce that is available in store.
Row upon row of fruit and veggies simply beg for my attention and it is impossible not to register the change in season with the full splendour of the autumn bounty before me. The thing I adore about Harris Farm Markets is that I always seem to walk out of the store inspired to try something new. For example, today I left the store with a box of the most stunning raw, green olives, fresh from the markets, just begging to be preserved over the course of the next few weeks. I haven’t tried making them before but I know my family all love olives so thanks to the inspiration, it’s time to learn something new!
Inside the store, I smile. Yes, dinner will of course be made, however dessert will also be on the menu tonight. Baking simply has to happen today. Lovely rows of figs have greeted me and, in turn, I know I have to make an autumnal tart or something to top with these seasonal beauties. Continuing down the aisle, I’m also drawn to the glorious colour of the fuyu persimmons and the absolute grandness of the beurre bosc pears…and cannot help but pop a few of each in the trolley. Not being able to decide between these fruits, an instant decision is made - a simple tart it cannot be no more. Dessert has just morphed into baking smaller tarts, as this would be multiple canvases to showcase more than just one of the beauties!
Back home, with my green olives scored and soaking in a large bucket of water, it’s time to make the most divine walnut and vanilla crust for the little tarts. As they bake away, the house is filled with the most beautiful aromas. The butter, walnut crumbs and vanilla all combine to evoke feelings of comfort and cosiness, just the thing to offset the crisper breeze that’s blowing outside. This got me thinking - although the tarts will no doubt be delicious when ready, there’s also something to be said for the actual process of their coming to be. The repetitive nature of pushing those little crumbs into their place on the small fluted tins is almost meditative, forcing my busy mind to take a break and focus on the creativity that is being played. It’s at this point that the beauty of my autumnal baking has become a source of immense peace and satisfaction…and that is simply magic!
With the tart shells in the oven, it’s time to make the filling and then finish off the tarts with the stunning sliced fuyu persimmons, figs and pears. Popping the fruits into their place on top of the tarts, I can’t help but be excited to serve these up to my little tribe for dessert, right here in front of the fireplace, with the flames dancing about as we gather on what will no doubt be another chilly night. I know what will happen – once the others see what’s being served up, there’ll be plenty of oohs and aahs, followed by quiet as we register how special a little treat this is. The afternoon chores need to get done so in the meantime, I go about my business doing the afternoon chores, just waiting for that amazing evening light to come over the property, signifying the end of another autumn day, and almost time for dinner and ultimately dessert.
Sitting here in front of the fire with my family, armed with a tart and a cuppa, I’m chuffed. Yes, the treats are no doubt pretty little things. Definitely delicious and most definitely will be on repeat over the coming weeks. The thing is, I’m also filled with a sense of gratitude. I can’t help but be grateful for what resulted from this morning’s simple recognition of the beauty that is autumn. And so, with that thought, I’m off to bed with nothing but an overwhelming sense of peace…and anticipation of waking up first thing tomorrow morning to munch on that last little tart sitting in the kitchen!
Story and photos by Helen Vlahakis for Mumma's Country Kitchen