Fall cocktails, blush hues. This week, a study in contrasts.

It’s that time of year when the skies start to darken earlier than normal. At 9PM, sunset in the height of summer is just starting to edge its way down the valley that sits squarely across from our stone patio. It’s now mid-fall, and that hour is 5PM, the time ticking towards that point in November when the clocks are turned back and we, for the most part, accept with reluctance that winter is near.

I love the darkness. I love the rain. I love anything that forces me to stay inside and seek cover amongst a treasured set of inanimate objects. Books, magazines, iphone gadgets – ordered yet still unpackaged. Reading, writing, cleaning, procrastinating. Wearing nothing but loungewear.

I love the smell of fall. The whiff of damp leaves that hangs in the cold air when the kids run in from their games outside. I once bought a candle from

Homesick Candles,  each candle smelling like the leaves endemic to the state on the label. More Aēsop than Yankee Candle should you ask, I can’t take those cloying smells. I bought the candle that said “Washington”. I’m not from Washington. I’m not from anywhere close to Washington. But the candle reminded me of this time of year. The hunker. The silence. Somehow, it smells like home.

It’s the season for sturdy stockpots and cast iron cookware. Long-neglected since the early days of spring when the days are still more cool than warm. My pots nearly beckon me to use them, cry out for a damp rag to release them from their silken coats of dust. They speak to me, I know they do. Maybe yours will too if you bend your ear and listen.

In summer it’s hard to cook slowly and methodically. Meals require nothing but a quick sear or a bracing vinaigrette. But, autumn demands it of us.

Including cocktails. Especially cocktails.

I made these beauties a few weeks ago; on a weekend that was just warm enough in the sunshine to make outdoor drinking appealing. The morning had been crisp, the kitchen tiles cool to the touch. We were in the mood for cocktails (before noon, naturally), and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to use my stove to prep them.

And make use of all of the fall flavors. Autumn Glory apples with notes of sweet caramel and cinnamon. Apple pie without the guilt.

It was a treasure to unbox these gems from Washington state. Who knows, maybe Washington will be a thing for us one day. I knew that I wanted to smell their essence over the stove. Cook them slowly and extract what I could – rosé-colored syrup and pulp that was quickly blitzed into a luscious unsweetened applesauce. Not that I mind the occasional sugar hit, but when you can get away with eliminating it, why bother to use it?

Though so many fall cocktails are golden-hued, I wanted to hang onto this last bit of summer by keeping the cocktail a sunny blush pink. You can replace the effort of making your own apple juice by using a store-bought variety, but think of the sacrifice. Think of the flavor, texture and color that you’ll lose if you skip out on this crucial step. The slow simmering of sliced apples with their skin and a stick of cinnamon or two. Letting it cool. Scooping the pulp into cheesecloth. Squeezing out all of life’s frustrations into wide glass measuring cup. I highly recommend it. The applesauce is your bonus. Your ‘A’ for effort.

Use your sunny pink elixir for anything you’d like. Add a splash of gin and club soda. Doctor it with rum. We chose margaritas, scented with piney rosemary, fresh from our garden. Spiced gently with black pepper. Sour with the addition of lemon. They’re not classic, but they don’t have to be. That’s the joy of cooking. One of them at least.

Particularly during this season. This season of contrasts. This season of bundling and blankets, of mugs and warming spices. Of pink instead of gold, of light instead of dark. But with a darkness that hovers just around the corner, crawling, sinking, ever so slowly, until it’s filled up all of our spaces with comfort.

Autumn Glory apple margaritas with rosemary and black pepper

Ingredients:
• 8 Autumn Glory apples, washed and dried, plus an extra apple, thinly sliced, for garnish
• 1-2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup water
• 1 small bunch of rosemary, chopped coarsely and divided
• 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, divided
• 2 lemons, halved
• ½ cup tequila

Directions:

To make the homemade apple juice/syrup
• Cut the apples into slices, removing the core but leaving the skin.
• Place the apple slices and cinnamon stick(s) in a large stockpot and cover them just barely with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 25-30 minutes until the apples have softened. Set aside to cool.

To make the black pepper rosemary simple syrup
Combine the sugar, water, rosemary (all but 1 tablespoon and two sprigs for garnish) and half of the black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.

To make the black pepper rosemary salt
Chop the remaining rosemary and grind the remaining black peppercorns (this amounts to a few good grinds from a pepper grinder) and blend it with kosher salt. Alternatively, you can use a pre-prepared rosemary salt like the version from Jacobsen Salt Co.

To make the margaritas
When all of the ingredients have cooled to room temp, it’s time to make the margaritas.
Spread the rosemary black pepper salt on a small flat dessert dish.
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and the juice of the two lemons.
Add ½ cup of the apple juice, the tequila, and ¼ cup of the rosemary black pepper simple syrup.
Rim two cocktail glasses with the cut side of the lemons, and then coat the rims with the rosemary black pepper salt.
Fill the glasses with ice, and then put the lid on the shaker and give it a good shake.
Strain the margaritas into the two glasses.
Add the garnish – the rosemary sprig and a few pieces of the sliced apple.

Serves 2.

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