Saturday, 20 August 2016

Harvest Gold

This summer is moving way too fast for my liking. The flowers are beginning to die, and there’s a lot of dead garden waste in the compost. Decay is in the air.

We had our last meal of peas last week, and the pea vines are destined for the compost heap.
 But, there’s a good side: it’s harvest time.

Take our zucchini. (Yes, please, take them.) Why do we do this to ourselves? Have we forgotten the utter boredom of trying to work our way through half-a-dozen baseball-bat-sized Zees in other years? Sigh. Time to get out the Zucchini Cookery Book (copyright 1978, when Z was the new exotic wonder food.) Its cover proclaims, “Buried in Zucchini? ... if you try all our Wilderness House recipes [70!], you will use 93 pounds of Zucchini.” Oh, goody.  I don’t care what exotic name you call it – Zucchini Gazpacho, Zucchini Salerno, Zucchini Mousseron – it still all tastes like zucchini to me.

Then again, it’s part of the harvest. I love that word. It conjures up all kinds of memories. When I was a little girl, harvest time on the farm meant that crews of neighbouring farmers circulated farm to farm to help each other bring in the harvest.

 It also meant a whole lot of extra mouths to feed  on threshing day, and there was a fierce competition amongst the neighbourhood women to see who could provide the best meal. The men, hot and sweaty, would give themselves a quick wash outside under the pump before sitting down. Bowls of potatoes and vegies, pickles, roasts with gravy, and applesauce circulated; plates were heaped high.

We kids were waiters and watchers; this feast was not for us until after everyone had eaten their fill. And everyone knew that the highlight was yet to come: pie. Raisin pie, apple pie, lemon least three different kinds. My mom and her friend were awfully nervous  – they knew only simple Dutch cooking.  Would their meal meet with approval? They probably didn’t realize that every other woman on the circuit was asking themselves the same question, and every man around that table was revelling in the best meals they’d probably get until the next harvest rolled around.

Another memory that’s associated with Harvest is canning. The RS has been hovering in the kitchen this week, watching me canning up a storm. He’s scratching his head, commenting, “You’re working too hard. It’s hot. Why are you doing this?” “I’m enjoying it,” I tell him cheerfully. (I know my man: he’s feeling guilty, because “it’s too hot to do anything today”, and so he’s watching the Olympics. I let him stew in his guilt juices – I’ll get something good out of this! Maybe even dinner out.) He watches me a bit longer, then a light dawns: “You’re writing a blog, aren’t you?” My man knows me, too. Busted. Goodbye, dinner out.

When the children were younger, when I was a full-time homemaker, I used to preserve boxes and boxes of fruit – peaches, pears, cherries, applesauce. It was what you did to feed your family. Mom did it too. How eagerly we waited for the call announcing that the peaches were ripe in the Niagara Peninsula. Our family squeezed into the Volkswagen early the next Saturday morning to make a day of it. We’d do fun thing in the morning, have a picnic, and then it was time to do some serious buying. One bushel at full price – peaches that could last for a few days, for mom to can after the weekend. And one bushel of cheap, cheap "seconds": falls, bruised and almost overripe. Mission accomplished, the Volksie headed home FAST, my sister and I slurping on peaches in the back seat, juice dribbling all over. Those cheap “reduced for quick sale” peaches were deteriorating by the minute, and mom had to get them canned that very evening. I have memories of sweat pouring off mom’s brow and steam filling the already hot kitchen, as bottle after bottle emerged from the canner, later to be lined up on the basement shelves and consumed with pleasure all winter long.

I don’t can every year, but the garden has been productive this year, and truly, I do enjoy it. There’s an element of nostalgia, I’m sure, but there’s also the satisfaction of knowing that our food is not going to waste. We planted those seeds and tended them with care. Now it’s time to carry the harvest over into the winter months. With every mouthful, we will remember our blessings. I love seeing all those bottles lined up on the shelves: pickled cucumbers, beans, and beets; peach chutney; 3 kinds of jam. And more to come. What bounty!

“You know, I think we’re in the harvest years of our lives,” I comment to the RS when he comes back to see if I’m STILL working. He grunts. “Now you’re getting heavy,” he says and quickly scuttles  back to the den, to the safety of the Olympics, before I can begin pontificating his ears off. I guess you, dear reader, could do that now too, if heavy is not your thing.

But if you’re still reading, let me explain. In Backyard Parables, gardener Margaret Roach writes about the stages of her garden, which parallel the stages of life, starting with Conception, in January–February, when you order seeds and make plans, and Birth, as the first green shoots  push through the soil. Youth comes next, when everything grows so fast. In the season of Adulthood full potential is reached. And then comes Senescence, which signals that the cells are beginning to die. Decay begins, and that could be a real downer, especially in life which is not as vigorous as it used to be. Good news though: it is accompanied by the joy of  harvest. At harvest time, all the work you’ve put into the garden – and into life – is coming to fruition.
The garlics (70+ heads) are hanging up to dry for winter storage.

and with tomato sauce yet to come...

Some plants – and some parts of our life – aren’t all that productive. But here and there you will find evidence of abundance, beautiful, complete, and awesome.

And abundance? Well, that’s harvest gold, better than any Olympic medal. That’s worth celebrating.

1 comment:

  1. Yes time flies by. Now I am wondering what the coming winter weather will be. Ugg