Patchwork: Autumn cycles around to close the season
Canada geese are unfailingly punctual. As I began to put my garden to bed this weekend, the honking from high above pulled my gaze to a cloud white sky. Those skeins of geese in long wispy V’s never fail to reassure: an ancient rhythm still pulses, something actually feels right with the world.
This weekend marked the end of my tomato season, the middle of apple season, and the beginning of planning for next year. For me, this is already a season of thanksgiving.
As I hacked at the jungle of thick vines, I pictured the last red tomatoes as a light tomato sauce, and the green tomatoes, destined never to ripen, melded into chutney, spiced with red wine vinegar, a touch of sugar and ginger (perhaps to accompany meat on a winter night). The tomato plants still bore new yellow flowers, and there were bumblebees hovering by the vines that continued to climb seven and eight feet tall. But the angle of the sun is so low in the sky now that within the tree walls of my yard, strong light is becoming a scarce commodity. Only one of six raised beds gets a full day’s worth of sunlight, and there parsley, rainbow chard, and the second planting of carrots bask. But the plants in the other beds have slowed. So I am finished with the tomatoes.
While I gardened, inside the kitchen on the stove a batch of applesauce from apples picked at Happy Valley Orchard simmered slowly.
We ate the first applesauce of the season last night with friends. Actually, almost our entire meal consisted of the lingering vegetables from Judy Stevens’ and my gardens, apples from the other side of town, local meat, local cheese and local chocolate.
First we ate an appetizer made from a couple of eggplants in my garden that I discovered buried under cascades of tomato vines and leaning giant zinnias. They were peeled and sliced into thick length-wise slabs, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and grilled alongside the last heads of radicchio, which I sliced in half, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with rock salt. The second course consisted of a fresh pesto, made an hour before, of basil, garlic, pine nuts, and pecorino cheese.
Our main course was an experiment: I rubbed a pork tenderloin with a paste of honey, cinnamon, mashed garlic, crushed black pepper and finely chopped fresh rosemary and cooked it over a bed of quartered onions and apples with a half cup of fresh cider. The onions and apples with the pork drippings melted into a wonderful sweet paste that we smeared on the meat.
For a side dish, I followed Judy’s advice and created a kind of succotash (new, at least, for me — and thankfully it did not resemble the nauseating mixture from my childhood), a delicate pink and yellow concoction made with cranberry beans from Golden Russet Farm husked right out of the red and white pods, fresh corn, butter, salt, a little lemon juice and cilantro. At this point we were full, but how could we stop? We paused to take a brief walk out over the new in-town bridge — yes, I know, there was police tape, but we went around it — and to get a look at the moon. Then we came back to sample goat cheeses from Blue Ledge Farm (the goat milk is beginning to slow. Come to think of it, Margy’s chickens are laying less). We finished our meal with fresh warm applesauce and a taste of dark chocolates from Daily Chocolate in Vergennes. Oh my.
Do we always eat this way? No. But with the fruits of the harvest fresh and tangy, and the sense that the growing season is coming to a close, there is not only an urgency to the preserving, the drying, the freezing, the “Saving for Winter,” but there is urgency in tasting, in savoring things that are truly fresh. And for some perhaps primal reason, I find I want to eat more, almost as if I am getting ready to hibernate.
This afternoon, as I finished harvesting the rows of carrots and pulling up the wilted squash and gourd vines, I plotted where to plant the garlic for next spring. While it still won’t go in for several weeks (Judy says to get it in the ground right around Halloween), it needs a fresh location and the soil needs enrichment.
The fall planting of garlic comes as inexorably as the southbound flight of the geese overhead. The falling of the leaves, the shortening of the days, the lessening of the light, and the cooling of the nights herald next year’s season already with the planting of the garlic. I am grateful for natural cycles.