Winter, nothing is fresh enough in New England --- no produce, anyway. And by the end of winter the good potatoes and turnips and stuff are starting to be not the best. The old expression "the bottom of the barrel" refers to root vegetables and the like in late winter.
Spring is nice, but it takes too darn long before anything is really growing, and you spend the whole time waiting. I mean, yes, lamb is terrific, but when all you've got is lamb and asparagus and some really old onions, it's depressing. Most of New England spring is what Vermonters politely call "mud season."
Summer has tomatoes and everything great, but it's so darn hot you don't want to futz around in the kitchen, so you end up just knocking out something quick. Not that the quick stuff is bad: fresh tomatoes, quick-grilled steak, beautiful lettuces, all that is great. But that's the time I feel like playing around with what I've got, and then it's so hot I don't want to do it any more.
Then fall. All the great stuff from summer continues, because we've got Indian Summer, which happens every year longer and longer these days. But the evenings are cool enough, so I can get silly in the kitchen. And then the squash and stuff is ready, and the game comes in, and I can just go nuts. For the first month or so, stripers are gigantic and fresh, and lobsters are still cheap, and then it's time for oysters and clams and stuff, and meanwhile there are terrific potatoes. And in New England, when the leaves start to turn, the air starts to smell of smoke, and that makes me hungry every time. Run to the farm, get some apples and beans and pumpkin and kale and potatoes and onions....
Thanksgiving is the beginning of the end. For me, it's a sad day. It means, "enjoy it, because from here on it's going to be fighting the elements until next September." Of course, I hate turkey, which doesn't help.
Oh --- in fall, they slaughter fat hogs. Need I say more?
Interestingly, perhaps, in Kyoto, which is the most totally lunatic foodie city I've ever known, everyone lusts after fall. Winter is cold and squodgy, spring food is green and squodgy, summer is too f*-*-*ing hot for words, and then for a brief moment it cools down and everyone eats like pigs. Everything is in season, pretty much, from fish to veg to meat, and all the best recipes seem to be about eating the smoky taste of fall.
Example (then I'll shut up): Take koji miso, which is coarse country miso that has bits of rice and stuff in it. Mix in sliced negi (Japanese scallion), fresh shiitake mushrooms, sweet white miso, sake, soy, and sugar. Mix it up good so it's really gooey. Now get a Japanese magnolia leaf (ho-ba), which is a honking big thing, and ladle a big mass of the miso mix onto it. Sear a duck breast just to render some of the fat but leave the meat basically raw, then slice it thin on the bias and fan it on top of the miso mix on the leaf. Sprinkle lightly with soy, minced negi, and sake. Now set this leaf on a coarse wire screen set over a fairly hot charcoal fire, preferably at the table. Wait. The leaf won't burn if you do it right, and the miso will start to roast, and the roasting will roast the duck, and when it's looking medium-rare you just grab some duck with miso and negi and eat it. It's like eating autumn. I say this as a New Englander, and we're very serious and picky about autumn, but this is the real deal: autumn in your mouth, the whole thing.
Check it out.
Oh --- and if anyone has a good suggestion for a replacement for the magnolia leaves, preferably one available in New England, I would dearly love to know about it.