Plumstone: Autumn Cookery

After taking a shower and before picking out my wardrobe for the day, I normally look at the weather. Recently, my phone’s weather app suddenly no longer foretold warmth, but a chilly rainstorm. After that: the promise of cool. And in doing so, the promise of autumn. And in doing so, the promise of pot roast.

My housemates and I hosted a lunch on Sunday after church. Moments after making the invitation to our friend, her family, and more friends, I knew what we had to serve, recalling possibly the best casual Sunday lunch I’d tasted. In fact, I think the other guests at my parents’ house after church two years ago thought it as good as I did. They left me and the other stragglers next to nothing when the tail of the line made it past the stove, holding gaping plates. I ate pieces of bread dragged through the chunky sauce of that pot roast and felt perfectly happy.

Joey and I began late Saturday night strategizing about the perfect pot roast. I unshelved a couple cook books and began melding recipes to come up with one that would satisfy my deep desire for both pot roast and Boeuf Bourguignon. Instead of a big roast, we would cube the beef into large cubes—too big for one bite, but giving the dish a stew-like character. We would serve this roast in bowls. We would add tomatoes that Joey’s brother and father managed to rescue from the first frost last week in his family’s Iowa garden. We would cut the carrots on the bias. We would cut the onions into eighths. We would peel two heads of garlic. So began our mise en place.

All of this we did on Saturday night, the clock creeping toward morning. Our knives worked vegetables and cubed beef, our hands sprinkling salt and twisting a pepper mill, our minds savoring the foretaste of this creation—the first autumn meal of the year.

We woke up early on Sunday morning to get the roast in the oven, sipping coffee while searing beef and sautéing the onions, carrots, and garlic. My shirt still smells like that morning before Sunday school. Joey stole a few of the pieces of meat and fried some eggs for our breakfast.

After dividing the veggies and the meat between two ovenproof Dutch ovens, the coarsely chopped tomatoes joined in. And since pot roast is technically a braise, we added enough beef stock to almost cover the meat. As a measure of final preparation and a sort of goodluck wish to the roast, I added a clumsy amount of basil, oregano and red chili flakes.

The two cauldron-like wares went into the 250 degree oven until we returned from church (about 3½ hours). I skipped the refreshment time after service to make it home and check on our babies. Under the lids of the dishes, I found fragrant, tender, familiar reverie—a Proust moment. Finishing touches involved adding a butter/flour mixture to thicken the sauce and blending some of the vegetables to add substance without adding more fat or flour. At last! We had arrived, and not a moment before our guests ambled through the crisp sunshine and our door.

The countertops in our kitchen were full of dishes brought by our company and the green beans Joey simply roasted in the oven moments before lunch.

Ten of us made our way through the line juggling mismatched china, over or under-sized bowls and salad plates, and sat in mismatched order. I, with my friend’s grandfather on my left, grandmother on my right, mother across the table, and friends on grandpa’s left. And at the card table were Joey, more friends, and the father.

Our friends departed for an afternoon of homework assignments, leaving the extended family with us. We made coffee and nibbled cookies and talked about anything for another hour before they loaded up the car and headed for home. Maybe it was the crisp air that kept them around our table or the looming trudge home. Or just maybe the lines of sauce left in the bowls to be squeegeed up with bread. I had earlier gone into the kitchen to find my friend’s dad with his fingers craning for the last few pieces of meat in the pot. I don’t care. I’m just glad they stayed.