Eat ’Em While You Can

The many stories about food and feast featured in this week’s paper may lead you to think we’ve forgotten our timing and brought you our Thanksgiving feasting issue four months early.
    We’re not confused; we’re just keeping up with the harvest, which reaches its peak this time of year.
    Hungry as I’ve been for Maryland tomatoes and corn — two crops unequaled by any import — I’m still amazed at the speed with which those annual plants grow. Tomatoes planted in mid-May are the size of trees. Fields of corn are as dense as forests, and early stalks are already yellowing at their bases, giving into to the invariable rhythm of life and death. Jack in the Beanstalk isn’t a fable; nature works that fast.
    You’ll read this week about the 2011 installment of the Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, a great feast grown and prepared by the farmers and chefs of Maryland to remind us that the freshest and best food we can eat grows in our own soil. The feast is a one-time affair, but the 2011 Buy Local Cookbook gives you recipes you’ll want to try all year long.
    I’ve selected the coolest ones to tempt you into the kitchen when ambient temperatures are already oven-hot.
    Neither will Rod ’n’ Reel’s great feast, the Celebration of Life Gala to defeat cancer, wait for another season. Just as Thanksgiving inevitably falls on the fourth Thursday of November, that Gala arrives on the first Thursday of August, the peak of the harvest season.
    This week we give you early warning that you’d better buy your tickets now. Wait until the night of, and you’ll be donating another $25 each to the good cause of fighting cancer, because tickets are $125 in advance but $150 at the gate. ( See you there.
    The harvest just won’t wait. From the small garden my husband tends and a half share in the American Chestnut Land Trust Community Supported Farm managed by Jeff Klapper, I’m running fast to keep up.
    First we had our salad days, when we were praying for rabbits to come eat our lettuce. Then, we ate cucumber this and cucumber that and cucumber everything. Now, it’s zucchini that’s so abundant that, after I’ve fixed it a dozen savory ways, I have to resort to my recipe for chocolate zucchini cake. I can even season my cake with garlic as husband Bill has now harvested his garlic. That’s what I cooked for Chesapeake Country neighbors John and Rhoda Allen’s 2010 Garlic Festival. Believe it or not, it’s delicious.
    Tomatoes will next have me stepping up to the plate.
    By late November, garden chores had better be mostly done. The hard freeze will be close upon us, shutting down vine, stem and branch except for those of us who have followed Bay Gardener Dr. Francis Gouin’s advice to continue the harvest with a cold frame or greenhouse.
    The Pilgrims — and all generations after them who had no supermarkets — would have, by that late date, to have finished drying and storing the fruits of summer. They would not taste the delicacies of fresh fruits and vegetables again for many months.
    So we eat them while we can.
    To keep well stocked with recipes, look in our pages each month for a seasonal recipe from the 2011 Buy Local Cookbook.