Friday, 31 May 2013

Awesome Autumn

Apple and pear crumble with orange and persimmon sauce 

Photos by Amruta Nargundkar

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,

John Keats nags me thus – voicing my fears that my busy work schedule may not allow me to pen my own ode to the glorious season before it ends today.

Worldly commitments get the better of willful creativity.     

Many eons earlier, John Keats had haunted me, albeit differently. I owe to him the understanding of the significance of autumn as a season.  Keats’ paean evoked finer sensibilities, introducing themes of rich auburn beauty, mellowness, fruition, and hope -emotions I had never before associated with the falling of leaves and the slanting rays of the sun.

How could I?  The only tree I had seen shedding copiously and colorfully during the miniscule winter in arid Hyderabad was the humble but bitter neem. But then, the neem only created a litter of yellowed leaves, a thick tangled mat of long sticks and a shower of bitter slimy fruit plopping on to the ground, spilling their pips in the process.

The medicinal neem also lacked the rich romance of 'the last leaf' that O. Henry’s Johnsy had pinned her hopes on. 

That short story had been another revelation of the magnificence of autumn - in the description of the quaint artists’ village, the frail girl who had almost given up on life, and the kind but gruff artist, Behrman, who never gave up on his dream of painting his masterpiece one day. The story had all the drama my little mind loved. It symbolised hope, sacrifice and the spirit of giving. And most importantly it had a happy-sad ending that I cherish even today.

Over the years, when my own summer was blazing over our business in Melbourne, autumn was often an annoying time. The maple trees lining the street at the front of the office building dumped their leaves like the rakshas Raktabija, who had special powers to make each drop of his blood that fell to earth give rise to another demon of identical size and strength. I regret being the Kali who cursed the dingy dun leaves, the business(like)woman who bought leaf blowers after leaf vacuums after leaf rakes to stem the fall.

But then, my role at the time was to ensure occupational health and safety, maintain the professional presentation of the campus yet cut down the cost of cleaning. Surely it was common knowledge that pollen gave us hay fever, which meant illness in every home, staff absence, and loss of work-man-hours.

Until one day, as I was walking to work, oblivious to the beautiful crisp morning and mindful of the heavy burden of worries, a beautiful leaf came drifting from the hateful maple tree and landed gently on my nose, stopping me in my tracks and bringing me back to my senses.

The leaf was my totem?

How much was I missing out on in life? Seasons came and went, but the only way I was relating to them was by groaning about the leaves that would litter and the extra cleaning it would require dreading that the air conditioning would fail and staff and students would suffer and complain that the roof would leak and the roof gutters would get blocked and cause flooding about hay fever affecting workforce productivity…

Looking at the desiccates with new respect, I marveled at how the trees would know without referring to their Outlook Express calendars that it was time to sprout and time to shed, time to bloom and time to brown; how the winds knew to blow on time and in speed to make all the leaves fall without the need of a project planner and gantt charts; and how the earth knew to rotate and revolve causing seasons without a Global Positioning System… and so on.

When we first came to Australia friends had told us about a little town called Bright in the Great Alpine Region of in hinterland Victoria. Bright is famous for its brilliant displays of autumn foliage and for the annual autumn festival the town puts on. For years I waited to go there.

Finally we got to it this year.

Everything turned out perfectly. The day was as rich and complete as the season. The landscape was brighter than any we had seen. Contrary to what the weatherman had predicted it was the kind of day I love, very sunny and bright, not a wisp of a cloud in sight and at mid-day it was a pleasant 15 C.

The place is aptly named Bright; a whole town resplendent with the glorious colours of the season, mighty maples and tall poplars in hues russet to gold, red to pink to purple, a celebration of life!

We collected leaves, bought eggplants, squashes and coloured peppers from a cute old lady at the local farmers’ market in Myrtleford, and lovely autumnal fruit, Hachiya persimmon, Beurre Bosc pears, quinces and apples. I am grateful that the browning pears bravely clung on to life and the persimmon held its juices until this week, waiting from me to make time to cook them in celebration of autumn.

Almost a month after we returned I am still smiling at the memory of the day. The heavens were truly and very generously conspiring to make this a memorable and joyful day for us. I am also smiling that I got to pen these lines.

After all, as Keats said, a thing of beauty is a joy forever. The poem, of course, is Ode to Autumn.

Apple and pear crumble with orange and persimmon sauce

For the sauce


1 large Hachiya persimmon – skin removed and flesh roughly pulped
1 large orange  - grate the zest and reserve for the fruit filling and use the juice the orange in the sauce
1 tsp lemon juice (only if required)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp unsalted butter
A pinch of salt
2 tsp corn flour
3-4 tbsp water


In a small heavy saucepan melt the butter and add the sugar to it. As soon as it begins to caramelise add the persimmon pulp and the orange juice. Add the lemon juice, if required, and a pinch of salt and bring the mixture to a simmer on low to medium heat. Stir frequently, and as soon as the mixture starts simmering add 2-3 tbsp of water to the corn flour and mix thoroughly. Slowly pour the corn flour mixture into the saucepan while vigorously stirring the mixture until the sauce thickens.  You may not need all of the corn flour so add slowly, and stir quickly. It should have some body yet pour nicely.

Remove from heat and set aside.

For the crumble


3 large apples, cored and thinly sliced
3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar/sweetener (only if required)
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
 All the zest from the orange mentioned above

For the topping


¾ cup self-raising flour
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup brown sugar/sweetener
¾ tsp powdered cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold butter, grated
1 tsp olive oil for the dish


Preheat oven to 170 C. Assemble the sliced fruit in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice, orange zest, spices and sugar/sweetener over the fruit and toss to coat. Arrange the sliced fruit in an oiled pie dish.

In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add butter to flour mixture and then work the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it is completely mixed. Evenly spread the topping over the fruit, pressing down slightly with your fingers. Arrange the slices on the top in a pattern of your choice.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until fruit is tender, juices are bubbly and topping is crisp.

Rest it for 10-15 minutes.

Pour the prepared persimmon sauce on the crumble and serve warm. You don’t need any cream, but it does taste good with fresh cream or ice cream.

Store leftovers in the fridge and serve cold or warmed.

This not only makes a great dessert, but also a sumptuous breakfast.


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