L'Été Indien and an orange sponge cake with a persimmon scatter as if falling leaves
We have been experiencing the lately elusive phenomena known as Indian Summer. The last couple of years the weather has gone straight from Summer up until October to deep Winter cold in November. There was no transition, there were no crisper October mornings, there were no heavy October rains, there was no chill that would subside at lunch time but come right back in the afternoon, telling us that cold days were just around the corner, and preparing us for Winter frost and biting cold.
Those October days, wet and humid and misty, punctuated by early morning frosts that would have you begging for a scarf around your neck and a warmer coat on your back, would give way, quite suddenly and seemingly unxepected - though we all knew it was bound to happen! - to those early November Summer like days, where the sun shone bright and temps reached their mid 20ºs, and if breezes there were, they would be warm. Those early November days, commonly known as India Summer around the northern hemisphere - and named St. Martin's Summer here in Portugal, as we are such a catholic nation... - would be like a last respite before temps turned down and the cold would settle.
They would help turn the leaves into russet and yellow, with the rise in the temps and the sunlight glaring down on them, the absence of rain and humidity giving us a small respite. They would bring around memories - entranched deeply within our colective memories, I believe - of the Beltane fires announcing Summer, the glory of Midsummer light with the sun setting late and drenching the earth in light, and these memories would be replicated in traditional festivities that used the lighting of fires to simbolise the out of season Summer heat that early November brought round, after the darkness of Samháin. Thus the introductio of such dates as Bonfire Night - in the UK - and St. Martin's in Portugal - which is celebrated today, on the tenth - all set around the lighting of fires all through the night. But I digress.
As I took my school runs last week and this week I was confronted with other parents either complaining of the "unseasonal heat", after they had put away their Summer garb, or rejoicing in the higher temps and overall sunshine, as if they did not experience the phenomenon in their own childhoods. I was taken aback to when I was my son's age, and we would celebrate the 10th of November with roasting chestnuts and lighting fires, all the time complaining it was too hot for that. It was not called Indian Summer - or St. Martin's Summer - for nothing. It was quite common. It happened every year. And it was good, it gave the world a sense of righteousness, it made me feel everything was in its rightful place. When it was no longer forthcoming, I became slightly unhinged.
See, I do like some sort of order amidst the chaos that I tend to thrive in, seeing that all my life I have been forced to muddle to said chaos and move forward with life, get things done, get myself living. The seasons and all their aspects, their own particular traits, they acted as some sort of order in all the rest. They would let me know it was all well. They would let me know I wasn't losing myself, and the world wasn't losing itself. Lately, with the changes in weather patterns, and all the rest of this worldwide chaos we seem to be hit with everyday, it feels like the world is off its hinges, and that the world has lost itself, humankind has lost itself.
So being presented with the return of an Indian Summer, to me has been a rare treat, and although I would do away with the heat, I am kind of revelling in it now, making the most of it while it lasts, going without a jacket when I leave the house in the morning, wearing lighter shoes instead of water proof boots, putting on sunglasses against the glare, and cooking vegetables in other ways that seem fresher, cooler than the roast vegetables I indulge in come Autumn. Even the cakes are filled with fruit to make them sing in freshness.
Like this cake. I did bake this one for my husband's birthday, in late October, and although by then the wind was chill, the mornings frosty and the air ladden with rain, this cake would not be amiss right now, in the throes of an Indian Summer such as this, and since I do not like roast chestnuts at all, I thought it would be a good cake to celebrate St. Martin's. It is a somewhat light cake, fruity and sweet, combining the falvours of orange with persimmons and quince jelly to cut some of the sweetness. It is a cake that becomes moist and drenched, and will need refrigeration if you don't eat it at one sitting, but it is a cake that will go well as dessert for a family lunch or dinner, or shared around the table with a cup of your tisane of choice as a mid afternoon break. It is a good cake, being so basic, and it is one you can actually play around with in terms of flavours.
So here's the recipe, and it is such an easy one!
- 150 gr flour
- 150 gr sugar
- 150 gr butter
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 3 medium to large eggs
- 1 orange
- 2 tbsps quince jelly
- 1 persimmon, peeled and cut into wedges