I have never really celebrated harvest festival. I suppose I always associated it with rural Church of England parishes, and as I neither live in the countryside nor am I of the Anglican flock, it is a tradition that just passed me by. However, as this year Mr M and I reaped some of nature’s bounty in our garden (End of season reckoning) and during our foraging walks, it seemed appropriate to take stock and be thankful for the produce of the soil – a practice that dates back centuries and is, after all, not the preserve of any particular religious group. And what better way to do so than with food?
As regular readers of this blog know, I abhor waste, especially food waste. A year of vegetable growing and foraging combined with increases in global food prices and recurring famines in the Horn of Africa have all intensified my long-held view that food is precious. Fortunately this is a perspective I share with Mr M – who is an expert in turning left-overs into meals in their own right!
So in this spirit, Saturday’s harvest festival meals were simple affairs, conjured up from free food from the garden, local seasonal produce and left-overs, and enjoyed all the more for this.
Lunch was positively rustic. A broth of leeks and onions, bulked up with half a dozen main crop potatoes and with a handful of home-grown kale stirred in for luck. As we had a couple of rashers of bacon left-over from Friday evening’s supper of comfort food, these went into the cauldron too. In some ways it felt medieval, a bit like the instinct for a harvest festival itself. After a morning of busyness Mr M and I sat down to bowls of steaming hot soup, chunks of bread and butter, and childhood memories.
After an afternoon of leveling and covering three wedding cakes for my younger brother’s big day, my arms ached and I had already juggled two rounds of washing up. Dinner was therefore definitely going to be kept simple, harvest festival or not.
As our local greengrocer was deluged with Kentish squashes and particularly fine-looking Portobello and large field mushrooms, we decided on an all-but-vegetarian menu. Whilst four cloves of garlic and a chopped onion sweated in some oil, I topped the squash and hollowed out the flesh and seeds (saving the latter for a toasted snack). The hand-broken chunks of mushrooms were added to the pan with an ounce of pancetta – the other ounce was destined for Sunday’s daube. Finally, I added the pumpkin flesh, an espresso cup of Martini Bianco, several sprigs of fresh thyme from the garden and seasoning. After a further ten minutes on the stove, the mixture was piled into the pumpkin (and the overflow into a Pyrex bowl) and popped into the oven. We enjoyed this not-quite vegetarian dish from the garden of England with the last of our fresh tomatoes and some of our potatoes that had been basted in olive oil, sea salt and thyme before being sautéed.
As it was a special occasion I dessert was called for. By dipping a couple of slightly stale sliced brioche fingers in an egg, milk and cinnamon mixture, I reinvigorated them as pain perdu. And, with the help of half a jar of cherries in Kirsch, I served up a Franco-Hapsburg take on the Czech dessert palačinky s ovocí (pancakes with fruit).
As Mr M and I sank into the sofa with our thimbles of espresso (ignoring the washing up for half an hour), we continued to savour the pleasure derived from cooking and sharing a good meal and mused on how, with hard work, a bit of luck and a helping hand from the weather gods, next year we might enjoy harvest festival with more of our own produce and some good friends.