Harvest Time & New Beginnings
It is back-to-school time and fall, perhaps my favorite time of year, when the heavy heat of summer rolls into the hardy harvests of autumn. At the farmers markets it’s the best of both worlds as crops from both seasons appear: there are great quantities of the ripest of summer’s fruits and vegetables, all going out with a bang – the end of the eggplant, the tomatoes at their finest peppers and okra. At the same time, the fall fare is cropping up little by little and you can sense the shift that is coming, even as you try not to feel the sweltering heat – let’s hope this is the last of the highest temperatures, finally.
For most people it is the “back-to” school time of year, but for our family it is simply the “to-school” time of year as our oldest daughter, Julia, begins her first every year at school. Out of daycare and into a Montessori.
I am giddy, as giddy as I used to be at the beginning of each new year of school for myself. She is eager, too. Since school is new for us this year, I notice more ads and sales for school supplies, materials, and products. Traditionally, marketers use images of shiny red apples in their back-to-school promotions. As I see these cliches, (and as I wax nostalgic thinking of how Julia has grown so fast and is approaching her birthday) I am reminded of some other apples, real apples that I purchased the year my first born was born. Apples come around in the fall and as it happened, so did Julia. I went to the farmers market at nine months pregnant while I was probably still in nesting mode – trying to ensure that everything was ready for the baby to arrive. But I also thought I should prepare for when the baby would start to eat solid foods at which time I wouldn’t be able to get local apples. I had it all planned: I’ll get these now, I thought, and make applesauce now and can it and it’ll be ready to feed the baby when the baby is old enough to eat it!
A perfect plan, complicated by one little thing; the baby. I was buying these bulk apple seconds – 20 pounds of them, to be exact – about a week before my due date. Since I had convinced myself my baby would be late I thought I had plenty of time. The baby had other plans. The day after I bought my apples, I went into labor. I thought I’d stick to the applesauce-making plan and just keep cooking while labor began. But before I could even think about getting the water bath canner down, my contractions started getting pretty strong. I had to forgo the applesauce and in between contractions I debated whether or not it was false labor. My husband said, “I don’t think this is false labor. If it were false, you’d be making applesauce.”
It wasn’t false. The day after I went into labor, the baby made her debut. I didn’t think much of the apples again, except for when I returned home from the hospital a week later and secretly wished that someone had snuck into my apartment, salvaged the 20 pounds of quickly declining apple seconds and made me some applesauce. But who did I think would do that?
The stork on its way out of town? No. The 20 pounds of apples were a goner. The seasons change and babies grow; now that little September baby is going to school, and we pack her lunches every day and inside many of her lunches I pack – you guessed it – applesauce. Of course now I’m using the store-bought kind but as autumn falls into place, I will gather as many batches of apples as I can from the farmers market and see if I can’t make some applesauce happen this year.
As sure as summer rolls over into fall, the marketing messages switch from “back-to-school” to “pumpkin spice” everything. And even though I love a good pumpkin, I am often rolling my eyes at what items our modern food developers are putting pumpkin flavor into. I mostly just assume that “no pumpkins were harmed in the making of this latte.” Or muffin, or donut, or scone, or – new this year – m&ms. Really? Yes, pumpkin flavored m&ms. It is fitting that the m&m mascot on the cover of Pumpkin Spice m&ms looks quite worried. That is just how I feel.
You know what else is pumpkin flavored? Pumpkins. And when the pumpkins show up at the farmers market, you can count on me to buy them by the bundle, no matter how big and heavy they get. And I will make my favorite “pumpkin flavored” dishes.
This reminds me of another 20 pounds of produce and another baby’s impending due date: my nephew was born in the fall and just before he was due to arrive, I bought a 20-pound pumpkin at the market – that is a single pumpkin at 20 pounds. In the days leading up to his birth, as the whole family anxiously waited, I made Pumpkin Muffins; Pumpkin Butter; Pumpkin, White Bean and Kale stew. I began to wonder if I would make it through all 20 pounds of my pumpkin before the baby arrived. No sooner than I’d printed my Pumpkin Risotto recipe, my sister-in-law went into labor. After Little Baby Pumpkin had arrived (as we’d been calling him since he was due so close to Halloween), I continued with my pumpkin spree and made Pumpkin Soup, Maple-Glazed Winter Squash with Garlic and Ginger, and of course, Pumpkin Risotto. A lot of work, yes. But a lot of delicious work.
And now I am realizing it is time to prepare for Halloween this year. I wonder if our neighborhood kids would want me to hand out Pumpkin Spice m&ms? I hope not. I’ll stick to the plain and simple chocolates on my doorstep … and the relatively plain and simple pumpkin dishes in my kitchen. Oh, and what about Julia- who is now old enough to express an interest in her costume – what does she say she wants to be for Halloween? A pumpkin.
Perhaps I can find a little apple costume for Julia’s little baby sister, Clara, and we will welcome fall dressed as delicious fruit and vegetable.