At 10:43 a.m. on September 22 the light and dark of the day became equal as the northern hemisphere began its winter tilt away from the sun. And now we progress to winter. While fall is not fully arrived yet, the maple tree on Bay Street in Sag Harbor that is always the first tree to turn has turned. This time of year has been the occasion for feasting, thanksgiving and celebration from pagan times, and perhaps before, among many peoples and it is still celebrated by contemporary pagan groups
The summer harvest is winding down. Working at the farmers markets in East Hampton and Sag Harbor this weekend (my second job), I saw the ending of the tomato harvest: the vegetable (fruit) that says summer. There are still potatoes, zucchini, watermelon and eggplant but the fall harvest is evident with the beginning of the squashes and apples.
If you’re lucky, you grew some of the many wonderful squashes in your vegetable garden. If not, many are available locally. I have seen, in addition to the usual delicious varieties like acorn, delicata and butternut, some red kuri, spaghetti, banana, huge blue Hubbards and other intriguing varieties. These may look formidable but most can be used just like the more well known types: baked, pureed, sautéed and in baked goods etc. They all taste like squash but have their own specialness. And if you planted some cool season crops like spinach, lettuces, and radishes, you can enjoy them with the fall vegetables.
When I was a girl, my mother planted squash one year that she called green crookneck. I have not seen this type in the catalogues that I use. Her harvest was immense! She cooked that squash in every way imaginable. She baked it, steamed it, fried it. She made soup, pies, purée, and cookies from it. We ate it all winter and it was not even a very tasty squash. But my mother grew up during the Great Depression and did not waste food. Hence, I delight in the very flavorful squashes that are NOT those green crooknecks.
In the fall, my uncles, who all lived on farms, did their butchering. If it was a steer, my mother and father would get part of it and into the freezer it went. One day, my uncle John came to the door with a pig’s head… the whole head!! My mother was joyous but the kids were appalled and worried about who was going to eat what and in what form. In my house, everyone was required to eat some of everything. Mom put it into a huge pot borrowed from grandma and boiled it for a very long time. Then she took all of the meat from the bones and cooked carrots, celery, onions and various herbs and spices in the broth. The broth cooked down considerably and when she added the meat pieces to it, it became like aspic. This was formed into loafs that she called headcheese. The kids were still appalled. This was one of only two things we were excused from eating—Limburger cheese was the other.
At this time of year, mom also “murdered” all of the chickens that I had taken care of that summer. Grandma would be in the kitchen when we woke up, sitting at the table sharpening the knives, buckets of boiling water on the stove. That signaled the day. As good children of the plains, we were required to help with the process, the kids chasing the headless chickens so they did not escape in their death dance. At the end of the day, they were all tucked snugly into the freezer much to my dismay. The same fate befell a duck that had become my very special pet. In spite of my pleading for his life, my mother explained that ducks were food and not pets.
Today’s children and their parents surely take joy in the bountiful products at this harvest time. There are apples and peaches for pies. The first pumpkins are at the farm stands. Winter “is a’ comin in.” Time to enjoy the harvests, celebrate the light, and enjoy the cool weather. And, yes, I am a vegetarian these days.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant, for gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.