Autumn watch

In this part of the world, this is the best time of year for food.

At the downtown farmer’s market on Thursday, the produce was incredible, and cheap. From Mary, I bought the usual dozen eggs and two loaves of her oatmeal bread, a few pounds of her freshly dug red potatoes, some other vegetables — and she had the first Westport Macomber turnips of the year: huge white mild turnips, originally a cross between radishes and more traditional turnips, which you can eat raw or cooked, a local vegetable that you can’t find outside of southeastern Massachusetts. This turnip is one of the finest fall vegetables and its arrival should be heralded with a trumpet fanfare: a fanfare for the uncommon turnip. From the fruit grower, I got several pounds of Cortland apples; I used to be a big fan of Winesaps and Northern Spies, but his firm white-fleshed Cortlands have a superb texture and make just about the smoothest and best apple sauce: substantial, not at all watery, and nicely flavored. From the Mattapoisett farmers, I got carrots and cantaloupe (they’re still picking cataloupes) and cauliflower and, best of all, cranberries — real cranberries, with little bits of twigs and tiny leaves from the cranberry plant, in all shades of red from deepest crimson to pale green faintly tinged with red: just as small blueberries taste better than the huge agribusiness blueberries you find wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, so real cranberries are more flavorful, both more tart and sweeter at the same time. The next day, we drove out to Alderbrook Farm in Russell’s Mills and bought some local honey, and I made a huge pot of apple cranberry sauce, made from the Cortland apples and the Mattapoisett cranberries and the local honey — it turned a warm reddish-pink color — and I spread it on the oatmeal bread, and ate until I’d eaten too much.

On Friday, Carol called me on my cell phone and said, would I like to go to dinner at the farmer’s house? Carol worked for a couple of days pulling weeds at a nearby organic farm this week; she needed to get out of the house and away from the computer and the freelance writing, besides the fact that a little extra money is always welcome in our household. So we went for dinner at the farmer’s house, with another couple we know slightly. Before dinner, we walked around the farm; it is in its glory in this season. The summer squash spill out over the edges of the raised beds, covered with flowers and half-grown squash; the celery stands large and robust; the fall beets have grown tall leaves, rooted in deep red balls shouldering their way up out of the dirt; the salad greens show bright colors against the dark earth, light green and dark green and deep red. And the herbs were just as beautiful as the salad greens — curly parsley and Italian parsley, rosemary (Carol had weeded the rosemary bed that morning), different kinds of sage, chives, and other herbs I couldn’t recognize. After we met young Murphy, an Irish Jack Russell terrier who is being trained to catch the voles which plague the farm, and Murphy’s owner who was plowing up one bed of the farm with a tractor-mounted rototiller, we went in for dinner. Dinner included New Bedford scallops sauteed in fresh leeks and herbs, boiled potatoes newly dug, sweet and tender, and some kind of wild mushroom I had never eaten before.

So what if today is the autumnal equinox? So what if the nighttime will be longer than the daylight for the next six months? So what if winter is coming in? This is the best time of year for food, the best time of the year to be alive.

4 thoughts on “Autumn watch

  1. DadH

    Dan, this was very well written, and I liked your descriptions of the cranberry applesauce made with Cortland apples. However, I still prefer Grimes Golden apples to the standard New England varieties. I grew my own for years; but now I no longer have any place to get them here in Massachusetts.

  2. Dan

    Dani — Yep, that’s my dad. He actually came to hear me preach a couple of weeks ago (you probably missed meeting him because you were teaching Sunday school). He allowed as how my sermon was pretty good, but the hymns were a little sketchy.

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