Blowin’ In: Harvest Home

Blowin’ In: Harvest Home
By Susan Mangan

November is approaching. The last vestige of pink blushes amid brown skeletal vines on a once verdant rose bush. Ivory cabbage moths flutter with dew-soaked wings searching for a parting shot of nourishment from autumn greens.

One morning, as the sun struggled to surface over a dense mist, a deluge of mayflies rose from the earth, confused by the spring of a spaniel running through the damp lawn. In answer to their flight, a flock of chattering cowbirds descended on mass to feast on this unseasonal cornucopia of insects.

People lament the early sunsets, the shortening of days, the preponderance of amber hues that slowly turn to shades of grey and black. Nature rots to give future sustenance to spring growth.

At times the unrelenting brightness of summer cajoles the weary human to savor each moment of warmth, to run with efficient steps, to plant while there is still sun. We are pressured by unremitting productivity. We are not encouraged to rest. 

November forces us to slow down, bundled by encroaching twilight. It is during this month, before the frenzy of the holidays, that I breathe deeply of the crisp air and savor the harvest that I have been given.

There are so many ways to feast during the dark months of late fall and winter. Meaty stews bubble in vast stone pots in the oven, while golden curries of winter squash and sweet potatoes infuse the air with exotic fragrance reminiscent of long days and sultry nights.

I am partial to shepherd’s pie topped with tarragon laced mashed potatoes. Slow food sustains us and reminds us of the comforts of home and firelight.

Firelight crackles in an old brick hearth. Guests walk toward the light of the front door greeted by the scent of burning cherry and hickory wood. Mulled ciders, spiced wine, and clove scented hot whiskey warm the hands and strengthen the gullet, a most fitting remedy for the dampness of November air.

As late autumn descends, I plan to expand my repertoire of comforting dishes. I have crafted apple galettes and strudel topped pies. My grandmother’s pumpkin is still not close to the deliciousness that only she could create. I can make Irish soda bread, but my brown bread is as dense as a brick. Still, I will keep trying.

My mother used to make quick breads and yeast breads. There is no greater fragrance than the buttery tang of white, farmhouse bread rising in the oven. Slathered with pats of Kerrygold Butter, this simple staple becomes the stuff of dreams.

There is something so comforting about the fragrances of late autumn. Morning might as well be night when my son rises for school each day. I like to think that the smell of his cinnamon toast stays with him throughout the challenges of schoolwork and everyday life. My father still reminds me about his special recipe for Malt-O-Meal and Cream of Wheat. There is indeed comfort in a bowl topped with cream and butter.

Seeking Peace
Recently, I read a cookbook by Marte Marie Forsberg, a photographer who grew up on an island off the coast of Norway. As a young woman, she traveled the world writing, studying, photographing fashion, and accruing cosmopolitan experiences about which one could only daydream.  Seeking peace, Ms. Forsberg settled in an old cottage in a picturesque English village, her greatest companion, an adopted English Pointer she named Mr. Whiskey.

Through all her travels and her ultimate stop to create a home in the lanes of England, Forsberg took with her memories of her mother’s porridge and hand made breads. When inevitable challenges arrived at her garden gate, she questioned her decision to live alone in a new country, starting her life from scratch.

From across the seas in Norway, Forsberg’s mother offered sound advice, “Do yourself a favor and make my sour cream porridge for supper tonight. You’ll know why.”

From these longings, Forsberg creates not only a cookbook, but a tale of her life which speaks of the strong bond she has with her mother and the need for nourishment when winds blow, and loneliness encroaches. No matter where we hang our hats at night, the comforts and fragrances of our past reveal that which is home.

My daughter is currently studying in London, but is traveling to any number of other destinations from Denmark to Edinburgh, from Barcelona to Budapest. For the record, her favorite foods to date have been the apple pie in a small tea shop in Loch Ness and the goat cheese in Edinburgh. This weekend she will spend time with family in Ireland.

I asked her if she is excited for her visit. Without a pause, she said, “I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see all the uncles, aunts, and our cousins. I am excited to smell the Irish air.”

Fragrances of home are not limited to that same front door we walk through each night, but rather to those places and people who have made us feel welcome. The birds that flock to my husband’s slumbering garden recognize our passion for sustenance, and so will our November guests stopping by for a cup of tea, or a clove studded hot whiskey. With a glass of red wine close at hand, I will be standing at the kitchen counter, apron covered in flour, with my spaniel lying inconveniently at my feet, offering comfort to all who enter, through the fragrance and taste of home.

Source Consulted: Forsberg, Marte Marie. “The Cottage Kitchen.” New York: Clarkson Potter, 2017.

*Susan holds an MA in English from John Carroll University and an MA in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at suemangan@yahoo.com.

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