After the heat and stagnancy of late summer, the crisp evenings of autumn are a welcome reprieve. The winds carry a beautiful magic, one that feels both nostalgic and refreshing. Perhaps you can feel it too, that shift in the light that filters down through autumn skies, the palpable change in energy that permeates the landscape.
As I admire the sparkles of frosted leaves in the morning before the sun rays reach them, I’m reminded of the beauty of this quickly changing season. All around me the world transforms—leaves blaze in their autumn colors, late season fruits and vegetables proliferate, and the world hums with the energy of transition. The beauty of these bright warm colors lies in their ephemerality; we know that all too soon, the world will be barren and blanketed in snow
These are the days of preservation and harvest, of gathering the last bounty of the year and putting it away in jams, pickles, and jars of dried herbs, and storing vegetables in the root cellar to enjoy in the dead of winter. We celebrate the bounty of the season while simultaneously acknowledging the sense of urgency that now accompanies harvest preparations. The smell of frost is in the air. The winter snows are coming. Like our ancestors before us, we prepare for the long, cold days ahead by stocking up on more than just produce. Coming together in community to enjoy the bounty also reminds us that we are part of a larger system and that should disaster strike, our neighbors will help us through barren times, just as we will help them. Our sense of community bolsters us and gives us the security we need to face the seasonal changes ahead of us.
The wheel of the year corresponds with the energy of life. If spring is the energetic innocence of youth, fall is the contemplative gentleness of old age. It’s a reminder that we’re all part of a cycle and that new life can only come after death. The reminder of mortality is around us with every dropped leaf and every fallen acorn. Perhaps because of those reminders, our minds often go to reflection and remembrance. Fall holds a nostalgia that no other season seems to capture quite as strongly. It’s a beautiful sort of melancholy, a soft bittersweet pleasure as we remember days gone by and loved ones missed. It makes sense that occasions associated with remembrance blossom at this time of year, from Dia de Los Muertos to All Soul’s Day.
Many call this time of year “the thinning of the veil,” and indeed, it seems as though there is less space between us and the magic of the beyond. We notice spirits in a way we don’t during other parts of the year. Up float ghosts, memories, magic, and wonder. The more in tune with the energy of the seasons you are, the more you will notice the glimmer of other worlds around the edges and hidden just beyond your reach. Some ancient cultures believed that the Otherworld or Land of the Fae exists on another plane layered onto the world we know. Something as simple as walking under an elderflower bush could be a hidden entrance to this mysterious realm. And when the veil is thin, more and more doors appear between the two worlds—more opportunities to accidentally stumble from your path and land in a place of mystery.
The recipes I’m sharing in this season are in honor of that thinning veil. Barmbrack, a sweet yeasted cake, is a traditional offering to the dead and a means of divination. It’s a bread that opens doors and hearts. A luscious fondue served in baked mini pumpkins carries with it the magic of the herb thyme, which has been associated with being a guide to the fairy realm—once again a doorway through that ever-thinning veil.
Can you see the glimmers at the edges, the spaces between? Have you ever stumbled upon a doorway to a realm beyond the ordinary? Have you ever wanted to step into a space of magic, if only for a day? Let these recipes transport you. They will guide you to ancestral wisdom and natural cycles. They will help you tap into something ancient and primal. And finally, they can show you just how beautiful the season of transition can be.
ORAGE JEWEL BARMBRACK
Barmbrack appeals to what we tend to crave in mid-fall: tradition, comfort, warmth, and sweetness. Is there anything quite so cozy as a slice of warm sweet bread lathered with butter and eaten with a cup of hot tea? Is there any better way to showcase the flavorful dried fruits left over from summer’s bounties than studding a rich dough with them?
Barmbrack speaks to many mid-fall traditions, such as setting out offerings for ancestors or spirits. Some spiritual traditions include hosting “dumb suppers”—setting a place at your table for each departed loved one and eating in reflective silence. Traditionally, many of these feasts take place on a black-clothed table, with symbolic foods (particularly apples, root vegetables, and wild game) served on black dishes, illuminated only by candlelight. Some write notes to their deceased loved ones, while others simply sit in the silence, communicating with or remembering them. Sometimes little tokens wrapped in cloth or paper were baked into the bread as a form of divination. Different symbols meant different things for the finders. For example, a ring meant you’d soon be married, while a coin indicated riches or prosperity.
While barmbrack is usually baked as a round loaf or in a loaf pan, my version dresses it up a little bit by using a Bundt cake pan to take it from side dish to centerpiece. A goji berry glaze gives it a gorgeous orange hue and slightly zingy flavor, while amaretto adds extra flavor and bring out the vivaciousness of dried apricots and candied orange peel. This dough is prepared in the traditional way, using yeast instead of baking powder. Make sure to give it plenty of time to rise properly, as enriched doughs take longer than normal bread. (And be sure to plan ahead so your dried fruits can soak overnight and become nice and juicy!) This bread tastes amazing, and is moist from the dried fruits that bejewel it.
ORANGE JEWEL BARMBRACK
1 cup cooled strongly brewed tea of choice ½ cup amaretto
1 cup chopped dried apricots
¾ cup chopped candied orange peel
½ cup golden raisins
3½ cups plain flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons (1 sachet) dried yeast
4 tablespoons butter
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 cup milk or almond milk
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
A bit of melted butter, for greasing
Place the fruits in a bowl and cover with the tea and amaretto and let sit overnight to plumpen up. Strain, reserving the liquid.
Warm the milk just a little until it is tepid but not hot, then melt the butter into it.
Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the yeast and stir gently.
Stir in the egg. Sift the spices with the flour into a bowl.
Make a well in the center and pour the yeast mixture into it.
Sprinkle a little flour over the liquid and leave it in a warm place for about 20 minutes or until the yeast starts to froth up.
Add in the remainder of the liquid and the vanilla and almond extract and mix the whole lot into a dough.
Turn it out onto a floured board, sprinkle with the sugar, raisins, currants, and chopped peel, and knead them into the dough.
Place the dough into a butter-greased large bowl, cover with cling wrap, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
Knead it back again, then shape into your greased bread tin.
Brush the top with melted butter and cover until doubled in bulk again.
Bake for 40 minutes in a hot oven at 400°F, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Drizzle with the goji berry glaze (below) and decorate with blanched almonds.
GOJI BERRY GLAZE
This lovely light orange glaze adds just a hint of sweetness and a lovely color to your barmbrack.
2 tablespoons goji berry powder
1½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whiskey
About ¼ cup milk or almond milk
Mix together the goji berry powder and powdered sugar.
Stir in the whiskey and add a little milk, a teaspoon at a time, to make a thick consistency.
Stir until smooth. Gradually add more milk until your icing is a pourable consistency (similar to white glue).
If you’d like a deeper orange color, add more goji berry powder.