November 30, 2005

november bits

Several more shots from Nagano that haven't been featured in my last posts; click here to see them as slideshow in a new window.

some of the highlights:

The new season was seen coming there.

November 27, 2005

apple harvest

As one of the country's largest apple growers, Nagano has seen busy and yet worried apple farmers over this past month or so. Usually, they would have been busy picking Fuji, the area's biggest sell, since as early as the beginning of November; but this year, this warmer-than-normal weather has slowed ripening of apples, leaving them on the trees longer than usual. They only started the picking in full swing towards the middle of the month, but once they started, they didn't have much time to worry; they had too many apples for picking to care about other things!

To see the full set of pictures I took of some apple picking, click here and start a slideshow in a new window.

In the second week of this month, their appels weren't quite ripe enough, especially the ones in an applefarm on the top of a hill. They'd check the farms every day, picking an apple or two to test taste for their ripeness. To my taste, many of them were quite ready, but apples here need right time to have their sugar content rise and get some really sweet, sugar-saturated part called "mitsu" (literally meaning honey or nectar).

And they finally called it a go into the third week of the month, and once it happened, everything got hectic - individual apple farmers in this area are typically small, family-based businesses, and at this time of the year they'd have their relatives and friends to come and help them picking apples as promptly possible. because, while they need to wait until last moment for apples to rightly ripe and sweet on the trees, the sweetness of fruits would ruin pretty quickly if they are left on the tree too long.

Here's my first crop of apple - isn't it beautiful?

I have a particular say about apples. It's not that they are the most favorite fruit of mine, but as someone that has families and relatives who would send us boxes of guaranteed-fresh, quality apples directly from the apple-growing area every year, I grew up with only good apples and have become quite spoiled, so to speak. As far as I'm concerned, I'd only accept super-crisp, sweet but tart ones as "proper" apples; the last thing I could stand is those spongy, almost mushy, bland-tasting ones that might appear bright and glossy on the surface. Well, people have different tastes, so this is my case. Still, I won't go as far as eating "an apple a day", but would love to enjoy the season's crop, appreciating farmers' care and efforts that are devoted to every single fruit - even more so now that I have gotten a glimpse of apple harvest for the first time.

Now, as you might be able to imagine, with this much of apples around, I've been making a whole lot of apple things this season. I will feature some of such things in my future posts, but for now I'd pick up something most directly apple-y, something that I wouldn't make if I had to buy bags of apples from a supermarket.

This is named Twenty-hour Apples by Pierre Herme, in the book Desserts by Pierre Herme (Pierre Herme, Dorie Greenspan, ed. Little, Brown, 1998). You get the idea from the name; it takes 20 hours to make, plus some more for peeling and coring of four pounds of apples. What you do is make layers and layers of thin-sliced apples, sugar, melted butter, and zest of orange (I used lemon, as organic oranges are hard to find here), piling up in a pan, then bake them at an ultra-low heat for ten hours. Ten hours! I don't know about your oven, but ours didn't have a 10-hour time setting, so I had to re-time the oven every 90 minutes. Then, you'd have a little less bulky mass of browned apples, which are then set to sit in the fridge for another 10 hours to be ready. This is such an uncomplicated-to-make dessert for an Herme's recipe, but he still wouldn't let you straight go to a quick-to-make solution, it seems.

The results? They may not look remotely unlike apple jam (which I don't like, by the way), but much more fragrant and subtly sweet, with a pleasant texture of the fresh fruits well reserved. I had it with cheese croissant to begin with, but can't wait to try it with a pie and/or tart sometime soon, as I have literally a pile of it....

To see the picture of today's post, click here.

November 23, 2005

before they all fall off

As I've mentioned in my last post, we're having a warmer weather in these autumn-winter months here, which makes colors of autumn leaves rather dull than they'd normally be. Leaves need sunshine during the day and chill of the night to change their colors to bright scarlet, orange, or yellow. Nevertheless, I got to view some beautiful tinted leaves up in the mountain in Nagano over the past few weeks, which I thought I'd like to share with you. To view a complete set of photos, click here so a new window will open to start a slideshow.

On the day I arrived at Nagano, we made a brief stop along the way from train station to the house to see a little shrine on the cliff in a wood.

The leaves hadn't colored completely and we thought it'd be only the beginning of the autumn-leaves coloring, only to figure out later that it would have in fact been the peak of this season, as they'd start falling off shortly; trees seemed to let leaves go before they were fully colored.

I was lucky though, having had a chance to get around and drop by a local small temple known as a spot for autumn leaves viewing. And it was breathtaking; I guess the clean air of the mountain area might have something to do with how the leaves appeared, in their clear-cut outlines and bright colors.

Then there were days of rains, which washed off many of the colored leaves in the area, while I was busy working at home, not having much chances to go out very far. We were located in the middle of a hilly area though, and I'd take a short break to get out of the house and walk for a minite or two into a wood, catching a glimpse of ever-changing trees and leaves towards the end of the season.

When I found it too cold for me to go out, I'd bake a little thing at home, like these cookies. These are apple and pear oatmeal cookies, based on a recipe here.

Soft and juicy thanks to the addition of fresh fruit chunks, they were a nice little change from classic oatmeal-raisin cookies as well as being seasonal treats, I think. Also, aren't they looking a bit like autumn leaves themselves? Well, maybe not bright red ones, but rather those brown, fallen leaves....

November 12, 2005

seeing winter on the horizon

I've been staying at my family's little house in Nagano, a mountainous area in the heart of Japan. Bad news (at least to me) is that I'm not on vacation - yes I've got a hunk of work enough to bind me in front of computer whole time. Well good news is that I do have a bit of time now and then to go out to get fresh air and bake little things out of autumn bounties, which I hope I will blog about in the next few posts.

Nationwide, it's been said that we're having another warmer winter, and it's surely been pretty warm for this area for this time of the year.

For now I have some of the photos I've taken in this past couple of weeks of my stay up here for you to take a view at flickr (click here to open a new window and view the set of photos as slideshow). Although it hasn't been as cold as it should have been, we do see signs of the coming of winter here and there, and I hope you will, too.

Note: I have belatedly updated my last post about pumpkin tartelettes that I made on Halloween, in case you are interested at all.