Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Fall of the Empire

Every year at about this time, back home in Connecticut, we make a pilgrimage to Litchfield for some leaf peeping, joining the crowds of Upper East Siders masquerading as simple country folk for the weekend. In England, autumn is less noticeable, characterized mainly by frequent sudden downpours and a rapidly descending darkness. Nevertheless, determined not to let the season pass altogether unmarked, we spent yesterday afternoon at the Autumn Festival at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

Initially we felt right at home, what with the five and a half million cranberries afloat in the Palm House pond and a few yellow leaves floating just at kicking distance above the ground, as well as displays of over a hundred apple varieties and a stand selling pumpkin soup. (The true New Englander undoubtedly knows already what we learned yesterday, which is that cranberries do not grow in water, but on low shrubs; the familiar "bogs" are created every fall when the farmers flood the cranberry beds to expedite the harvesting process. Incidentally, the beds are flooded again in the winter to protect the plants against the cold, but we digress.)

There were, admittedly, some pecularities in the English version of autumnal celebration: a twenty-foot-high pumpkin man looming over the apple cider table (Laura, usually not a Halloween enthusiast, is writing to Congress immediately to lobby for the introduction of NEA grants for the encouragement of an American school of pumpkin sculpture, which we now see can be a truly moving form of artistic expression), as well as a pagoda and a Japanese garden. We spied a pair of rather forward peacocks wandering through the cafe, joining in the universal search for snacks. A tour through the Palm House's dramatic jungle plants, unapologetically appropriated by monocled botanists at a time when imperial Britain enjoyed all the spoils of balmier lands, provided an unexpected tropical counterpart to the chilly air and falling leaves outside.

In the end, our jaunt was quite colorful and autumnal enough to feed our nostalgia for New England, and this morning we were hungry for an October-appropriate American-style brunch. This recipe may be the perfect way to satisfy pancake cravings in a land without maple syrup.

Lemon Buttermilk Pancakes with Apple Cinnamon Compote

For pancakes:

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup buttermilk (alternatively, try whole or even spoiled milk - lumpy is OK, green is not!)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespooon grated lemon zest

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk, eggs, butter and vanilla. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients. Mix in lemon zest.

Heat griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls onto griddle. Cook pancakes until undersides are golden, edges are set and bubbles appear on top surface and pop. Turn pancakes over and cook until bottoms are brown and pancakes are barely firm to touch.

For compote:

1 tablespoon butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Heat butter over medium-high heat in large skillet. When foam has subsided, add apples. Saute until slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and water; turn heat up and bring mixture to a boil. Let boil, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a thick syrup and apples are tender. Stir in lemon zest.

Spoon compote over pancakes and serve.

Serves 2 very, very hungry people, or 4 normal appetites.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

Hi Tam and Laura! Loved the fall festival description. New England has just had its leaf peak-- quite spectacular despite the predictions of a bad turn-out. Rich and I have been doing the corn maize at the farm-stand in Brookfield every day to show our fall spirit, and I still get lost every time! The haunted hayride is next.

Got your post-card-- we'll come to London as soon as we win a million dollars! C