Patchwork: Harvest time comes with the Hunter’s Moon

We harvested more potatoes today, on a warm clear afternoon, geese threading south high above. With the first killing frost a few days ago, we now light a fire in the fireplace at night, but steadfastly refuse to turn on the heat during the day. The temperature went down to 58 in the house; sweaters came out, quilts for the beds, the soup pot went on the stove and we began toting firewood.
Grab the recipes for green tomato chutney and apple clafoutis here.
Read more Patchwork columns here.
On the clear cold nights of this past week, we watched the moon wax. As I write, the so-called Hunter’s Moon is almost full; bright and small, it feels aptly named. With the seasonal clearing and gleaning in the fields, migrating birds graze the fields in search of leftover grain, and animals grown fat from summer are primed for hunting. Traditionally in Europe the moon was named for bird-hunting season. Here Native Americans hunted deer under the moonlight in newly leafless woods, stored the meat for winter, and celebrated the harvest under this moon.
It is slaughter time. Almost hunting season, and definitely time to slaughter turkeys. I ran into Paul Stone, and he tells me that they start Monday at Stonewood Farm. John and I, together with friends Margy and Jordan, spent Saturday afternoon dispatching two out of the three turkeys that live in the company of 19 laying hens in Margy and Jordan’s “Poultry Palace.”
It’s not that we couldn’t raise a couple of chickens and a turkey on our three-tenths of an acre in town. But we choose not to. Instead our laying hens — New Hampshire Reds — and our one turkey have been part of a larger, more social (we theorize) flock in Cornwall. We chip in with grain costs, and whenever Margy and Jordan go out of town, we watch after the girls, checking the water supply, adding grain and food scraps, collecting eggs (sometimes still warm), and making sure they are snug at night. We chart the growth of individual birds; hear about their antics; share food tales when we all get together. And we eat fresh eggs.
Saturday dawns clear, still and warm. We have an appointment with Tom and Thanksgiving.
“I feel oddly sad about this,” admits Jordan when we arrive bearing lunch. “These particular turkeys were real characters. I am going to miss their odd little voices.”
He is not sentimental though. He and Margy have been raising birds for a few years, and know that they are for eggs and meat. But they care for them well, and the growth of the birds becomes woven into the fabric of their summer. Their vegetable garden runs along the edge of the chicken coop, and the deck off the kitchen looks right into the coop. The flock is almost always part of a larger conversation.
“One of the turkeys laid an egg this week, but we don’t know which one.” Margy has put the eggs in a little dish to show me. It is speckled and smaller than I would have thought, except of course it is a first egg (how ironic to have started laying now, I think).
We eat lunch first: ham and Vermont cheddar cheese with a layer of the green tomato chutney I put up last week, on slabs of Red Hen Bakery bread. And then we begin.
John has hunted for, and then cleaned and processed ducks, geese and grouse in the wild. I have witnessed chickens being dispatched, but this is the first time I have helped. It is a quiet and peaceful activity this particular afternoon. We don’t want to upset the remaining birds. And we are grateful to these birds as we handle them in their deaths.
I find myself in awe at their nervous systems — the stillness, almost drowsiness, when they hang upside down, then the automatic spasms and flapping of wings when the nervous system unravels and shuts down. I am surprised by how long the bodies remain warm and soft. We are tender with them as we pluck their feathers, gut and clean them, wash the cavities with rock salt and cold water, and wrap them for our freezers.
We sit on the back deck in the sun, the birds between us, and talk as we work. The cats sidle up and watch. The hens and the remaining turkey go about their business in the coop, scratching at the soil, settling in the shade, looking for fresh scraps. The tom weighs in at 31 pounds dressed, the hen at 23 pounds.
I think about how when I cook the hen we will remember her strutting outside, the dark feathers flashing. Knowing where and how she was raised — fresh air, lots of vegetable peelings and some grain — makes her sweeter.
I think about the green tomato mince meat I am going to make when I have a chance to finish picking the green fruits off my tomato vines, now partly blackened by frost. We will pick apples in the late afternoon, and pull more food out of our vegetable garden back at home.
A blue sky day. The geese go south. The moon is waxing. Harvest, glean, slaughter, freeze, preserve, prepare. Hunker down time is almost here.
Green Tomato Chutney
Green tomato chutney signals the end of the tomato season. When I was comparing chutney recipes with my mother, she sent me the following recipe for green tomato mincemeat, which I will make this week for the first time. There are lots of varieties of mincemeat, so if you have a good recipe, please share.
6 cups chopped apples
6 cups chopped green tomatoes
4 cups brown sugar
1 1/3 cup vinegar
3 cups raisins
1T. cinnamon
1 t. powdered cloves
3/4 t. allspice
3/4 t. mace
3/4 t. pepper
2 t. salt
Peel, core and chop the apples. Peel and chop the green tomatoes. Put all ingredients in a large pot and bring slowly to the boiling point.
Simmer three hours. Add 3/4 c. butter.
Pour into six clean, hot, one-pint jars leaving half an inch of headroom, seal and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Or cool, then pack into containers leaving one inch for expansion, and freeze. There should be enough mincemeat for six pies.
Apple Clafoutis
Clafoutis, a sweet dessert made of cooked fruit and a pancake batter, is usually made out of cherries, but of course it is possible to make with pears, plums or apples. The recipe below is based on a Julia Child recipe. The clafoutis tastes best right out of the oven, but I just had some gently reheated for breakfast with a splash of cream. Delicious.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take five good-sized fresh crisp eating apples (about 3 Cups when chopped), peel, core and cut them into lengthwise slices about 1/4-inch thick.
Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet, and sauté the apple slices gently till slightly brown.
Turn off the heat and add 1/4 Cup of dark rum (Calvados would be good, too) and 1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon, and 1/3 Cup of sugar. Toss and let stand for half an hour.
Put the following ingredients in your blender: 1 1/4 Cups of milk, 1/3 Cup of granulated sugar, 3 eggs, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract, and 2/3 Cup of flour. Cover and blend till smooth, about one minute.
Pour a thin layer of batter on the bottom of the baking dish, and set in the preheated oven till the film of batter has firmed up. Spread the apple mixture over it, and then pour in the rest of the batter. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for a little less than an hour. The Clafoutis is done when it is puffed and brown and a knife plunged into the middle comes up clean. Sprinkle a mix of cinnamon and sugar over the top. Serve with whipped cream.

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