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Using Your Garden (Or That of a Friend) to Prepare Your Home for Thanksgiving
Childhood Thanksgiving Seasons
While I was growing up, autumn meant many wonderful things to my family and I.
It meant a chance to bring structure to our days, after the haphazard fullness of the summer - school and church programs both started back up. It meant the end of garden work, and many wonderful things stored up for the snowy days to come. It meant refreshingly cooler days, and longer nights. Most of all, it meant Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving was more than a meal in the home I grew up in. It was a time to refresh our lives; to rejoice with extended family and sometimes friends; and yes, to give thanks.
I knew how the first Thanksgiving was held, and with whom. I knew about the Pigrim's struggles in Europe, and in their new country, too. I knew about those who helped them through those early years, and joined with them in that first three-day celebration. Can you imagine? A BBQ with geese and wild turkeys, whole deer roasting over fires, boiled cornmeal puddings, seafood...and maybe, wild berry desserts. Simple, but very palatable. I see the sun washing the scene gold at the end of the first day: the women are smiling, having forgotten their fears of not enough food for their ninety guests; a few men still show off by way of wrestling matches, or shooting contests. Others sit contented, talking, or contemplative. The whistles of songbirds fade, and gradually, the rustles of creatures just waking slip into their places. See? There's an owl. And there - a nighthawk, swerving at a mosquito. The fires are red now, matching the slim afterglow of the sun behind the forest.
A baby cries, wanting its last meal of the day, and a few of the hardest playing young men prepare to wrap in blankets to sleep.
For the moment, there is no thought of rationing the grain stores...of the few kernels of parched corn alloted to each person per day during that first awful winter. No more hunger. There is only rest, and peace, and a very real companionship.
That companionship, and the peace that went with it, lasted for many years.
The bounteous supply lasted for many years. The game, the fish, the corn...the friendship.
Sometimes I get hare-brained schemes, and think, maybe someday I'd like to plan such a three-day Thanksgiving, with wild game (we've done that before), and sports, and as many friends as will come. That would be something, don't you think?
But for now, I'll just concentrate on the bounteousness of the season.
Beautiful Crops of Corn and Winter Squashes
Green Bean Canning and Pickling
From Garden to Cornucopia
Bounty nowadays means something a bit different than it did to the Pilgrim's. Not in quantity, certainly, for I'm sure they liked to eat good food as much as ever you or I do. But I'm not sure how I'd like a bag-pudding made chiefly of ground corn and deer fat. If ever I try it, I'll do a hub on it, so you can know whether the experience is worth pursuing.
I have the opportunity to grow many more things than did the Pilgrims, as I'm sure you do, too, if you wish. I don't have nearly the fishing situation that they did, but I prefer to garden anyway.
Thus it is for me that preparing my home for autumn always begins in July . . . about the time my green beans begin producing enough to begin canning them. My mother and I usually work together on this picking, snapping and washing...and when we snip the sprigs of fresh, pungent dill for each jar of dilly beans, we think ahead to Thanksgiving Day, and relish trays.
Ah...! Pickled beets - sweet pickle sticks - and yes, even pickled carrots. Have you ever tried them?
We have different plans for the cabbages, and the many varieties of peppers and squashes, both summer and winter.
We begin discussing whether to have turkey and venison, or maybe waylay the traditional menu, and just have salmon.
As soon as we are through with the green beans, the tomatoes and peppers and summer squashes are upon us, and cucumbers and carrots and beets.
For a while it seems overwhelming. But we seek never to lose sight of how much better our lives will be for this work, and we never stop giving thanks.
Pie Cherries, Basil, Cedar and Juniper Berries
As I am out and about on my day job, I begin to scour the country for berries and other fruits, and to make preserves, and jams, and to freeze and can and dry everything I can lay my hands on. It pays to make friends with people who grow things you don't! All of my cherries this year came from a neighbor, as will the apples - my old fruit trees chose last year to die. I use many things that grow in my own yard, though - black currants, and blackberries, and chamomile and other "weeds" (more on that another time).
Fruit trees are not the only ones I keep my eye on. As a personal favorite, and as one of the few options for local snowy-time greenery, I take note of the best-looking cedars and junipers around, and begin deciding just how many berry laden branches I'll be wanting for decorations. They look gorgeous, besprinkled with purple, blue, and green-tinged berries, and have many uses. Not only do they look lovely atop my piano and display shelves, but they freshen my damp cellar, helping to keep molds at bay, and can be used in cooking. I pick handfuls of the ripest, and dry them thoroughly for a pleasant tea later on, or for marinades to charm "buckish" game into tasting civil.
Other jobs include packing root vegetables away in boxes of damp peat moss, to be used fresh. In this way, carrots and turnips, parsnips and beets are all ready for long-cooking, flavorful soups, or breads, or as snacks and side dishes. Potatoes - blue, gold, pink, and white - nestle in boxes with newspaper, and will stay nice for months.
So begins autumn. Of course, by the time I actually get to harvest my squashes, and pile them in the cellar, positioning them so their many colors are showcased, the first nippy days have come, and frosts are imminent. It is time to begin reminding my children to watch for Jack Frost's work on our windows in the early mornings, and never to disturb his pictures. He is the finest lace-maker around, afterall. It is time to begin watching for fresh cranberries on sale, and to finalize the Thanksgiving menu.
It is time to cure the last cobs full of corn, thread and hang the peppers (don't forget to smoke and freeze some chilis for added dimensions of flavor), and light a good fire in the cookstove for making a big pot of beans. Nothing says "cozy" quite like a kettle full of properly made navy beans, with good molasses, mustard, and chopped apples.
Make sure you know where your best baking recipes are. You'll be wanting them soon. Check your supply of spices, and shop accordingly. Invest in some really good cinnamon. Cinnamon sets the tone like nothing else can. To me, it equals autumn. Buy small cinnamon chips, or break up a sweet, spicy stick, and make these treats available to your children (and you!). Or use one of those almost-too-pretty squashes, and make a custard.
Cattails Floral Arrangement
Lastly, see about taking a walk when the world starts winding down, and the trees are thinking about turning color, and take a look at how Nature uses her bounty to decorate. Pay special attention to the textures she uses. Autumn is full of contrasts. While most things are drying down and getting ready to rest, others are just springing to life. Baby grasses and winter wheat inspire me to consider velvety touches, perhaps in a table runner, or my blue couch cover. Impending frosts inspire the use of mirrors, and, of course, I can't do without candles.
Keep on the lookout for the hidden beauties - perhaps you could fill a centerpiece vase with almost-puffed cattails and sweet-smelling grasses, bearded with crisp seeds? This would be highly appropriate next to a wild-goose dinner, don't you think?
New England Eating
Playing Favorites (Holidays)
Is Thanksgiving Your Favorite Holiday?
Even More to Be Thankful For
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