I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and I can’t recall a more beautiful autumn season than the one we are experiencing right now. At my house the trees are extraordinarily bright, as if the oranges try to outdo the reds and yellows.
I was noticing this last Saturday in total awe as I sat sipping my morning coffee and compiling one of my “to do” lists with, I might add, little enthusiasm. I had only jotted down a couple of chores (one was cleaning out my closet) when I threw the pad aside and decided a fall road trip was in order.
Due to the price of gas, I didn’t want this to be just an aimless drive around so I decided I would go “gathering” for some specific items for my pantry. A friend had mentioned pumpkin pancakes and because I love pancakes, I decided to try these. Naturally, this called for hunting up a pie pumpkin. And I thought a good accompaniment would be some cranberry syrup. I was also hungry for squash and just these few items were enough for me to set out on a quest.
Homey, my dog, served as co-pilot and it wasn’t long before we were traveling the backroads, marveling at the breathtaking colors and breathing in the scented air. Our first stop was to see my friend Jim Kudek, who I refer to as the “apple man.” He sets up a stand every year in Lake Tomahawk selling his produce which usually includes a large assortment of apples. But this year his stand is totally devoid of this fruit. “The warm spring and then a freeze wrecked the blossoms,” he said, “so very few apples grew.”
While I was disappointed that he didn’t have apples, he did have a good supply of garlic. “One of my best years ever,” he said with a smile. And he also had several different types of squash I adore. While Jim’s produce is always welcome, it is really this good friend I love to see every fall. We never run out of things to talk about and as I perused his merchandise, we chatted about the failed apple crop, the phenomenal garlic crop and other agricultural matters.
After that visit, I headed out on Cty. D to Lake Nokomis Cranberries, another favorite place of mine. I have done a story on this enterprise for the last couple of years and these people always treat me like a queen. Of course, they have cranberries for sale, which is what I was after for my syrup, but they also had samples going, including a delicious cranberry salsa and some cranberry wine.
After my purchases I looked out across the marsh and could observe the harvest. (They also have tours here.) The cranberry crop has always fascinated me and I could hardly pull myself away as I watched the workers bringing in the cranberries.
But Homey was getting restless and so, as we traveled on, I decided to stop at a little wayside and let him exercise. I found a small park along the Wisconsin River and as Homey frolicked and played in the newly fallen leaves, I marveled at the glory around me. I stood under a copse of bright yellow aspens and felt as if I was being engulfed in a golden, flickering curtain.
After our romp we headed out again, this time on a pumpkin search. I found a little roadside stand featuring several different size pumpkins and chose a large one for decoration and small one for my pancakes. It was one of those stands that requires the patrons to be trustworthy and as I slid a few dollars into a coffee can, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I was to live in a place like the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where pumpkins are sold on the honor system amidst the glory of bright red maples, orange oaks and flashy, flickering birch.
We finally started back toward home, but I took my time. If I found an interesting byway, I took it and around every curve, over every hill and through the thickest of woods the wonder of fall made me ooh and aah as if I was watching Fourth of July fireworks.
I put all my purchases to good use, too. That night I sat down to a big plate of pumpkin pancakes for supper, drizzling on my homemade cranberry syrup. The perfect ending to a perfect day.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 Tbs. canola oil
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk, pumpkin and oil until smooth. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot greased griddle. Turn when bubbles form on top of pancakes. Cook until second side is golden brown. Serve with syrup.
1 1/2 cups fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Place cranberries, water, and granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until cranberries are falling apart, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl and let the strainer sit over the bowl until the syrup has cooled to room temperature, about one hour. Discard the solids and refrigerate the syrup in a container with a tight-fitting lid for up to two weeks.