October 19, 2017 by Jean
Wherever I have lived in my adult life (southern California for two years after college, the mid-Atlantic region during my forties and fifties), I’ve always come home to New England, beckoned there by my love of New England’s four seasons. There are things I treasure in each of those seasons, and seasonal transitions for me are mostly about looking forward to seasonal pleasures.
These days, despite weirdly warm weather in September and early October, I am enjoying the transition from summer to fall. This transition involves not only changes in the weather, but changes in my activities, changes in chores, changes in daily routines, and changes in the foods I cook and eat.
By October, my garden club’s round of garden visits are done for this year; and my participation in a recent garden fair marked the end of my Master Gardener Volunteer activities for the year. Last week, I attended the last course of the year at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, on selecting woody native plants for the garden. This was my fourth course this year, adding on to the five courses I took last year toward my fourteen-course Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture. I expect to complete that program with five more courses next year.
As garden-related activities are winding down, other activities are revving up. In early September, my choral singing group started up again after a summer hiatus; I now spend several hours every Thursday evening rehearsing Christmas and Hanukkah music for our December concert. In late September, fall courses started up at the Senior College where I am teaching a six-week course on doctor-patient relationships. In November, I’ll switch from teacher to student and take a creative course that combines art and poetry.
Garden chores have not ended, but they have switched focus. Instead of preparing and planting new garden beds, weeding, and deadheading, I am more concerned with cutting back plants, putting away plant supports, mulching plants that benefit from some extra winter protection, and adding compost and manure to renew garden areas. This is also the time of year to collect and sow seeds for new plants I want to add to the garden. Yesterday, I noticed ripe seeds on some wild asters that I want to include in next year’s new garden area; today, I went out with an envelope and collected some of those seed heads, with plans to get them cleaned and sown this weekend. In fall, non-garden outdoor chores, like stacking this year’s delivery of firewood, putting away hoses and my rain barrel, taking in patio and deck furniture, putting out reflectors to guide the snow plow, and taking down the gazebo from the back deck, become a high priority.
At this time of year, the days get markedly shorter and the sun rises later each morning, triggering changes in my daily routine. I get up later during these months of darkness and go to bed later at night. I can no longer fit in an early walk and a leisurely tour around the garden each morning before breakfast. Instead, my garden tour takes only a few minutes and my walk has been moved to late morning. I also need to add time for singing practice into my daily routine.
My favorite part of the transition from summer to fall is the food transition. I love food, and one of the benefits of a diet based primarily on local foods is that each season brings new favorites that I haven’t eaten in many months. During the late summer harvest, I usually roast a pan of vegetables like tomatoes, onions, peppers and eggplant each week and use the roasted veggies as a pasta sauce or a pizza topping or a filling for quesadillas. Last week, I shifted to a roasting pan of winter squash and sweet potatoes, a fall favorite. I decided I was ready to be done with the lunchtime salads I have been eating every day for months; now I am eating a side serving of hot roasted squash and sweet potatoes with my sandwich. Soon it will be time to start making up a pot of soup each week, and I picked up the ingredients for veggie burgers (a food I haven’t eaten in about six months) at the farmers’ market last weekend.
In recent weeks, I have been busy preserving food for winter cooking. I have frozen pesto cubes, sliced bell peppers and two quarts of tomatoes to supplement the three and a half quarts left from last year’s canning effort. This week, I roasted and pureed two pie pumpkins and added two pints of pumpkin puree to my frozen bounty. (I’ll freeze more pumpkin in the weeks to come; the puree is great for pumpkin pies or pumpkin custard or for making winter soups.) The seeds and string that got scooped out of the pumpkins before I roasted them went straight into a stock pot along with some onions, garlic, potato, carrots, leftover greens and water; they simmered on the stove for several hours, making three quarts of flavorful soup stock for the freezer. This week, I cooked a savory stew and a pan of cornbread – fall comfort foods –for my weekly dinner with my neighbor. Desserts also change at this time of year. Although I still manage to include a little bit of chocolate every day, fall is apple season in Maine. The crisper drawer in the refrigerator that was home to salad greens all summer is now filled with apples, and I am enjoying apple cobblers and apple crisps.
As summer turns to fall, I am enjoying mild sunny days, hours spent outdoors, and colorful fall foliage. And I am looking forward to months of delicious eating.