|Dont Wait for Thanksgiving;
The Harvest Is Now
Waiting for Thanksgiving to celebrate harvest season in Chesapeake Country is like going to the theater in time for the last act: You miss a lot.
The millennial harvest of the bounty of Chesapeake Country is well underway, but not so far that you need regret what you've missed. In fact, there may be no finer time than these late weeks of October and early weeks of November to harvest the pleasures of land and water.
"After the worst summer crabbing ever and a slow-starting fishing season," we're reminded by long-time contributor M.L. Faunce, "the October Bay booms with crab and fish." She's proved it herself, dangling a crab line and casting into a chumline, then savoring good eating as a second reward.
But we wouldn't have to take her word for the bounty of autumn. We're finally enjoying for ourselves the sweet white meat of giant jimmies, and any day we make time to go out on the Bay, we're sure to dine on rockfish, bluefish or trout.
This month, we've added oysters to our menu, for their annual season has opened and oystermen are bringing in the bounty, albeit in only a fraction of their one-time abundance. Celebrating the return of our favorite bivalve, we ate oysters 15 ways this weekend. Thirteen varieties came our way while judging the Annual National Oyster Cook-Off: 12 were in competition; the 13th, fried oysters, came courtesy of one of the Rotarians sponsoring the St. Mary's County Oyster Festival where the National is held. Two more we cooked ourselves, copying the winners.
We were delighted by the excuse for a long drive, for it gave us many miles to appreciate the autumnal spectacle of Chesapeake foliage. These dry sunny days and cool nights bring out the best reds in dogwoods, red maples, pin, red and scarlet oaks, sweet and blackgums, sassafras, sourwoods and sumac. Adding yellow to the rich, warm mix are aspen, birch, elm, gingko, hickory, honey locust, white ash, yellow poplar and willow. Sugar maples flame with orange-yellow, while bald cypress turn a spectacular gold.
On the way home, we paid our annual visit to Plantation Apples in Mechanicsville for apples. "It's been a hard year," said orcharder Alfred Wood. Rain rotted much of the crop and spotted most of the apples that survived. Still, we filled our basket with nine varieties: Black Twig, Cortland, red and yellow Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan (our favorite), Melrose, Stayman and Winesap. Since then, we've been happily keeping doctors away.
The mums we harvested last month from a former tobacco farm on Route 258 in Lothian are still showing a bit of color, and our locally grown pumpkin is ready to be carved. Had we not been flush in those fall necessities, we could have provisioned ourselves amply at dozens of farm markets throughout Chesapeake Country. And we could have improved our seasonal decoration with corn stalks.
But we had to hurry home to finish canning the hot peppers our home garden is still producing. We got home in time and, once they were sparkling in their jars, we placed them alongside the tomatoes we'd canned in August.
In Chesapeake Country, as in America, we may not be the farmers we once were, but our farm and water traditions are holding firm.
By Thanksgiving, the harvest spectacle will have ended: The moveable feast was set so late - the fourth Thursday in November - so that farmers would be finished bringing in their field crops. Now's the time to blaze your own trail through Chesapeake Country, betaking yourself of its bounty.