Autumn has begun to ever so subtly make herself known – brushing a leaf here or there with gold or crimson; whispering to the air with crisp breath; casting her spell of ripening sweetness over the garden. Her call, subtle though it is, gently beckons the spirits of us all to retreat back within, to begin that journey to the very deepest bosom of our being. The feeling is unmistakable, a sense returning to yourself, of coming home.
And so there is such tremendous comfort to fall – especially now when the days have only the merest hint of briskness to them, when the sun still shines brightly and warms your skin. Everywhere one looks there is something to comfort – something to nourish – something to please. But the pleasure is muted and soft, the nourishment of a sweeter and heartier note than that of other seasons. The meadows are seas of lavenders and yellows – goldenrod, asters, the treacherous thorns of brambles concealing luscious plum-colored berries. Everywhere there is the blush of an apple concealed behind a leaf, the vivid orange of a the rowan berries visible deep in the woods. Everywhere there is a harvest.
My own apple trees are providing their own small contribution. It is the first in the three years that we’ve lived here that they’ve produced fruit. The apples are small but delightfully sweet and crisp. Already they’ve filled a pie, been baked into crumbles, filled jars of apple sauce and a batch of garden “glutney” along with other wild apples scavenged from the plethora of trees growing along every road side here in Vermont. I’ve been wondering what has prompted them after so many years to produce again, and can’t help but fancy that perhaps it was just for us.
Down in the wet and marshy places, the elders have put out their harvest. Those heavy hanging clusters of blue-black berries are a favorite food and medicine of mine (please visit this post to read more), and a day spent in sweet autumn sunshine filling my basket and staining my fingers purple is a day particularly well spent. Aside from my usual batch of elderberry syrup to keep family and friends well through the winter months, they’ve ended up along with my wild apples in a pie and crumble; cooked down into an elderberry ketchup and slow cooked in vinegar with ginger, cloves and black pepper to make an old sauce known as “pontack” that I’m just dying to try (though I’m supposed to age it 7 months first – we’ll see if I can make it).
And for the first time since childhood, I’ve given to playing with the rowan berries again. We had a tremendous rowan (or Mountain Ash is the tree is also known) in the backyard. Many of my days in the late summer were spent gathering berries from that tree, smashing them up in a bowl with leaves and twigs and little bits of grass while my mother watched nervously from the kitchen window. Funny how little we change! Their flavor raw leaves much to be desired, and that is really an understatement. But cooked down with apples, hawthorn berries or other wild fruits of the season (blackberry, rose hip, etc), and a substantial amount of sugar (necessary in this case I assure you), they transform into an absolutely delicious jelly or syrup – especially with a little measure of whiskey added for good taste.
I hope you all are enjoying the harvests of autumn as well – whether from your garden, the wild places, or simply the joys you have harvested from this past season of your life. Enjoy them all, and welcome home.