It was a beautiful day, glowing in the brightness that only September can bring. The red
and orange dahlias and golden marigolds held their tousled
heads high, in defiance of the cool evenings. The
afternoon sun brought the lingering heat of summer's
last gasp. Soon it would be giving way to autumn.
Entering the dimly lit barn of the farmer's market, my senses were immediately engulfed by the earthy aroma of produce: garlic, dill, apples, and pumpkins. I inhaled deeply to fully absorb the atmosphere, instantly transported to the days of my youth.
My earliest recollection of harvest time is my mother canning Royal Anne Cherries on the Fourth of July. I must have been 3 or 4.
"We need to put these by," Mama would say, explaining why she wasn't going to the carnival. "Then we'll have our fruit in the winter."
Later, when I grew older, I worked with other neighborhood kids, picking strawberries at the farm down the road. I can still remember the cool crispness of the June mornings, bicycling my way to the farm, and the wetness of the dew on the berries. We started work at , and finished around . Pick a few, eat a few. The berries warmed as the sun rose higher, thawing our chilled fingers. It was my first real job. At 9, I made enough money to buy a pair of black "leather" cowboy boots. They cost around $8.
July and August would bring the haying. The rhythmic clang of tractors, cutters and balers permeated the air for days. All the farmers would pray for no rain until all the alfalfa was stowed safely under cover. One wet day could ruin a crop.
My friends and I were always on hand to help. Bucking bales was hot, dusty work, assigned to the teenage boys. The sweat would run rivers down their bare backs, chaff hanging in their hair. We girls, being smaller and younger, were given lighter tasks. My job was to drive the flatbed around the fields. There was no question of a license. I was only 12, but I could reach the pedals, and turn the manual steering wheel. My value was assured.
The days prior to Labor Day and the beginning of school, were frenzied: picking and pickling, freezing beans and corn, making blackberry jam. My help was appreciated, and mandatory. The kitchen would be hot, and supper would be sandwiches. The pantry shelves would gradually fill with canned goods. Braids of onions and garlic, and bunches of herbs hung from the rafters. Bins of potatoes and squash were tucked into the corners.
The culmination of it all was the annual Grange Fair, held the second Saturday in September. Kids showed ponies, dogs, chickens and rabbits. Women displayed their baking, canning and gardening skills, while men gathered to discuss crops and cattle. Local musicians entertained. It was a celebration of food, friendship, community, and a summer's work well done.
As I left the farm that September day, my basket filled with treasures, I couldn't help feeling nostalgic. The art of "putting by" has been largely lost. We can buy ripe tomatoes in January, and pickles off the market shelf. And who wants to stand in a sweltering kitchen, stirring jam? When there is no need, there is little desire.
Fortunately, there are still those who keep the traditions alive, and available to the rest of us. So, if you can't grow a little garden of your own, visit a local farmers' market and just enjoy the goodness of the earth.