Most people say goodbye to summer after Labor Day. That’s the end of the really hot weather for the most part – a last hurrah. It’s when most people and their families take their last opportunity to get away in the still warm weather. The children enjoy their last summer adventures before school begins. That last chance for the beach vacation or the summer home to make memories together and think back on over the long cold winter to come.
For me, that’s not the end of summer. For me, summer really ends in October when the variety of local foods changes at the farm markets. The last of the peaches and nectarines vanish, not a ground cherry in its thin, papery skin to be seen anywhere. No more blackberries or raspberries attracting bees with their sweet scent. Catch your last fresh locally grown herbs if you can before they’ve gone. To make them last, a whisper of summer, I buy several varied bunches and dry them out for a week or more on paper towels. (They must be completely dry or they’ll go moldy.) Then I put them into glass jars to use throughout the winter or until they are gone. No more fragrant baskets full of fresh basil and summer flowers. Say ‘bye-bye’ to the tables of heirloom, field and yellow tomatoes. The last Lima beans, corn, and carrots are leaving on the summer train.
Gone are the myriad salads of summer, fresh cold fruit shakes. Finished are the backyard meals and shared laughter with friends over grilled seafood, chicken, hot dogs, burgers, steaks, ears of corn and vegetable kabobs. The pleasure of an ice cold beer and a burger smothered in caramelized onions while sitting in a lounge chair. We’ll have to wait until next summer for these hot weather pleasures (although not the beer necessarily).
Now comes the new season of apples – Gala, Ginger Gold, Macintosh, Mutsu, Ida Red, Honey crisp and more. Parsnips, heads of cabbage and cauliflower, stalks of broccoli, asparagus, pumpkins and squash of many varieties make their appearance. Jack-O-Lanterns are being cut and placed on stairways and in windows. Children begin to anticipate Halloween, and it’s sweet candy corn they’ll seek. Cobwebs and spiders, skeletons and Ghouls… these and the ghosties will make them all shriek!
There’s that nip in the air that says have a care! It’s time to take out our heavier sweater or jacket for the first time since past Spring. The leaves on the trees have begun to change color. This is when I have to acknowledge summer is truly gone. I look back sorrowfully on days when I could stroll down the street in nothing more than shorts and a shirt to my local farm market. I’d meander from stall to stall greeting the farmers, vendors, and neighbors I’ve come to know as I admired the colors, the wafting fragrances and varieties of foods while making my selections.
I find myself beginning to crave my first homemade soups and stews and pull out my cast iron pot thinking, what will be the first winter food I make.