The morning must rises thick and dense, up to the tops of the maples and pines that surround the pasture. The early sunlight beams through in radiant shafts, catching floating mist particles on their way. It clings to my hair and face and hands as I shrug on a jacket. Last night was just a hair’s breadth away from our first frost.
We haven’t seen a hummingbird in several days, though we leave the half-drunk feeders out, just in case a straggler passes by. Their flits and chirps have delighted folks who visit all summer, but now these wee little birds must make the long journey south towards a warmer winter. The barren feeders remind us that we probably won’t see the hummers again until Memorial weekend, when they’ll come buzzing at the windows, announcing their return.
The Canada geese are beginning to flock, sometimes headed north, sometimes headed south. Their calls ring through the morning air like sirens calling all to collect and follow. Even the cranes make infrequent appearances in the fields, flying higher and higher in the sky. They are preparing to leave.
In the garden, the catch-up game continues from our late spring season. The second planting of green beans are finally ready to pick. And the zucchini will keep on stubbornly producing until they freeze out. The raspberries are finishes, and the blueberries are winding down.
In their place comes the early season apples. Crabapples are already falling off the trees, and we pick and pick and pick—hauling them back to the kitchen by the boxfuls for making jelly. What we don’t get now to process we’ll rake up later as a treat for the pigs. What with fallen apples, oversized zucchinis, and more, it’s a happy time for the pigs, to say the least. As soon as they see the farm’s golf cart pull up with bags and buckets, they start dancing around, spinning in circles and grunting with glee. Just wait until the under-ripe squashes need a home!
Some of the eating apples are ready now too—Duchess, Melba, Transparent, and a few others go into baskets and boxes. The first apple pie of the season is always a special treat, just like the first rhubarb custard pie in springtime. Studies have shown that the human body naturally craves fruits and vegetables about two to three weeks before they are seasonally ready—encouraging us to keep close tabs on the garden, the meadow, or the woods so as not to miss the proper harvesting time. No wonder these first apples taste so good!
Random, mist-laden clouds pass through the otherwise sunny day, sprinkling the sunflowers, zinnias, and cosmos in the garden with glistening droplets. The mums are beginning to make tight buds, preparing for their autumnal bloom. Marigolds sit pretty with their fiery yellows, oranges, and reds—matching the tips of a few maple branches I notice on the way in to town.
Some folks are warning that this could be a long, cold, and snowy winter. But since I’ve moved up to Wisconsin’s Northwoods, someone has said that at some point going into each winter! I guess all we can do is take what comes, harvesting and storing away the last of summer’s bounty as best we can.
It’s certainly jam-making time. Enormous pots of deeply tinted black currants or choke cherries bubble on the stove or swirl round and round in our hand-cranked Foley Food Mill. The oven is packed with glass Mason jars, while a second pot bubbles with lids and rings. Don’t talk to Mom while she’s counting cups of sugar—you’re too distracting! The recipe must be just right, or you’ll end up with a whole batch of chokecherry syrup instead.
While the chokecherries grow wild around the edges of the forest, we planted the black currants from cuttings given to us by a farming friend to the north in 2004. Their first location became invaded by tag alders, so we moved the three survivors to the edge of our yard where they could still keep their feet wet near the creek. Last year, there were plenty of fat robins and blue jays (guess where the berries went), but this year we hauled in our first jam-worthy crop!
Surely, three bushes shouldn’t take long to harvest, I thought. But after pulling up branch after branch loaded with fat, black, juicy orbs, it soon became apparent that each one would take at least an hour to clean. A few reinforcement pickers and six or so ice cream buckets later, the black currants were safely tucked in the fridge, ready for cleaning and cooking. A distinctive, tart flavor, black currants will keep our toast topped with purple-black all winter.
Here is a treat of the season that may soon be harvested—spaghetti squash—along with a few compatriots. Give it a try!
Spaghetti Squash Ratatouille
1 medium-sized spaghetti squash
1/4 cup white wine
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 zucchini, sliced
2 cans stewed tomatoes (or make your own!)
1 cup spaghetti sauce
Oregano, basil, and pepper to taste
Prepare and cook squash as you would any other type of winter squash (halve, remove seeds, place face-down in a pan of water and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until fork tender).
Heat wine in a skillet. Sauté onions and garlic in the wine for a few minutes. Add both kinds of peppers and cook until tender. Add zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, cooking until the mixture begins to thicken. Add spaghetti sauce and stir together, then add oregano, basil, and pepper to taste. Separate spaghetti squash strands with a fork and place in a large bowl. Spoon sauce over the spaghetti squash strands and serve hot. Enjoy!
However it is you mark the changes towards fall, take some time this week to smell the crispness in the air, walk the mist in the morning, and enjoy the first of the foods of autumn. This morning, a rainbow shown through the mist, right over our barn. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com