Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Thanksgiving and the first frost of the fall

It seems fitting that in our area the first frost of the fall will occur tonight, on Thanksgiving weekend. My family and I love this time of year, we love visiting the local farmers markets and walking around our neighbourhood, which has an abundance of red and sugar maples.  And we love eating homemade pumpkin soup on getting home from those walks. And lots of other fall activities that seem to usually involve being outdoors followed by eating heavily.

Of course, the first frost means the end of field tomatoes, a small reason for sadness, for it will be another nine months before we taste another fresh one. Like Guinness, the taste of a tomato declines with every mile it travels from its source. That's why in our own backyard garden, which began its first season of production this year, we had a virtual monoculture of tomato plants. We picked a bad year to specialize in tomatoes. The summer was generally cool and damp, exactly the wrong conditions for a plant better suited to mediterranean climates. We grew enormous, lush green vines, but they were late to flower and only a small percentage of fruits actually ripened.  The weather conditions also didn't help my experiment with whippoorwill peas, a drought-tolerant cowpea that fed many hungry people during the Great Depression. The seeds germinated but never got the heat they needed to thrive. 

We also had to contend with an explosion in the population of black squirrels this year. Last fall must have produced a good crop of acorns in the neighbourhood, because our yard was overrun by these critters. I was typically ambivalent about their presence in past years, but when they took up the habit of taking a single bite out of every other tomato, I began to loathe the sight of them.  Then again, it may not have been only squirrels causing the damage; there's a family of three raccoons on our block who seem entirely indifferent to their human neighbours' gardening efforts.

So this Thanksgiving we are truly thankful that the farmers in our region had a better year than we did in our backyard. It's remarkable how even the short growing season that we have here in the Ottawa valley is sufficient to fill our market stalls. This year we even came across a local farmer who is successfully growing wine grapes, and makes a passable red wine (surprisingly, his white wines - which tend to be better suited to Canadian conditions - need work). We'll have a glass of it this weekend with our Thanksgiving bird (locally raised, of course) and toast our neighbours - the farming ones, that is, not the squirrels.

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