Autumn in the deep south
The Colors of fall
As the crisp smell of Autumn blows through the air, my mind goes back to my childhood, growing up on a small farm in rural Mississippi. The orange, red, and yellow sweet gum leaves cast a colorful carpet on the ground as their former owner hides shyly among the live oaks, pines, and other evergreens. I remember mama gathering the different colored leaves and picking "black eyed susans" and other wildflowers to make a center piece for her table. She would carefully choose the things she needed to brighten her table up while we hunted for kindling for the firewood along the creek banks.
The kindling we sought lightered ( pronounced "lite-erd" ) was found in the heart of a fallen, rotted, Pine tree and was hard as granite, but it was super flammable and smelled like raw turpentine when it burned emitting a blue and orange flame and black smoke. It was a welcomed guest when starting any fire on a cold morning.
These kindling expeditions were not just for fun but very necessary, they were usually carried out just after the first little cool snap in autumn when the sun was warm and the skies were blue and clear. Wagons and wheelbarrow loads were brought in, split, and stacked by the wood pile. All done in anticipation of those Cold, gray days, when old jack frost would make his appearance.
Scent of Autumn
Autumn was also syrup making time and the sweet smell of bubbling sugarcane juice filled the autumn air. It was "Hog killing" time as well, which meant fresh slabs of bacon, Smoked hams, brisket, and home made sausage. Which were all slow smoked over Hickory and maple wood fires, whose smokes scent lay heavy in the cool evening air.
Yes it was a busy time, fall in the deep south, figs, pears, peaches, and plums that had been "put up" during the late spring and summer would come in handy on these cool mornings. A portion of this freshly canned fruit was also traded for fresh apples and pecans to make pies with. Once the trade was made mama's kitchen came alive with the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon which filled different pastry dishes of pies, turnovers and tarts.
Then it was all topped off in early November by the intoxicating aroma of mama roasting green coffee beans gotten in hundred pounds sacks from the French Market in New Orleans. The beans were slow roasted in the stove in a large metal pan to different darkness for different flavors of coffee, light, medium,and dark. Once the roasted beans were cooled, we kids would grind them in the ancient old coffee mill mounted on the kitchen wall. The coffee was then put into special plastic lined paper bags papa got from somewhere, and the bags were sealed and marked light, medium, or dark.
Papa used as little processed stuff as he could, that mostly being sugar and flour which was bought in 25 pound bags and put in their prospective "barrels" ( large metal cans with lids). None of these choirs were done on a whim, they were all planned and carefully carried out with almost perfect precision. Everyone in the family took part in some form or fashion because we were all taught and knew that all would benefit from them in the months to come.
Mid to late autumn before the first frost was the fall harvest season. I remember there were Pumpkins, fall watermelons, sweet potatoes, and late corn, just to name a few. There were also the greens, cabbage,collards, my personal favorite mustard greens, rootabeggas and turnips. There is nothing better in the world than to take some fresh mustard greens, and smother them down in a black Iron skillet(see recipe) and eat it with fresh cornbread.
Fall also meant hunting season and when the work was done and the fields all "laid by"; we would take to the woods, (but not until after the first hard freeze) to find a fat squirrel or rabbit. There are many different ways to small game hunt (but that's another hub). my two favorite small game hunts as I said earlier were squirrels and rabbits.
I Still hunted squirrels, that is to say, I found me a good sized, likely tree with lots of acorns; under which I would just sit and wait for the squirrels to show up. Rabbits were different, in order to effectively hunt rabbits one must have friends to help him. There is no better friend to the rabbit hunter than a sad eyed, long eared hound, better known as the beagle ( Stay tuned for the hub "Saving Belle"). These short legged, fat, little, fellows love nothing more than to chase a "Cain cutter"(large rabbit) until they've worn him out or he winds up in the hunters bag. The secret to rabbit hunting with the hounds is to remember that the rabbit will always return to the point where chase began.
Autumn of Life
As I sit here warm and cozy on this cool fall day, I can't help but think back to the old wood heater and shiver when I remember those cold days when even with the fire roaring, you would freeze on one side and burn up on the other. It's been many years since I've had to depend on such primitive means for warmth, yet I find myself worrying about those who do and if they will have enough wood to make it through the winter.
This is my autumn of life, I have lived my summer and it has ended now, It is the time of life for me when I begin to reap my life's harvest ( St. John 4:35 ). I will be retiring in a few years from my job and like my mother I will be enjoying life's beautiful flowers arrayed for me.(my grandchildren). I will be making preparations for the long,cold, and desolate winter to come, by making sure that my life's firewood and kindling are properly cut and stacked; (2 Peter 1:10 (KJV) ) and that I have extra oil for my lamp of life.( Matt 25:1) Lastly and most importantly I am preserving and storing away enough food for my soul. (Matt 4:4)Then I will continue to bask in the warm that is God's love, my soul enjoying the peace that only he can give.