Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

I love this time of year: crisp mornings giving way to the last vestiges of summer; condensation on the car windscreen a tell-tale sign of how chilly the nights are becoming. Hedgerows around here are heavy with rosehips and blackberries; feisty little spiked green balls concealing chestnuts hang low on the trees, or lay scattered, empty beneath, where squirrels have had first pickings. Yesterday I sat outside to read, the early autumn sunshine unseasonably warm. It put me in mind of harvest festivals.

Before the age of eleven I attended a tiny Church of England primary school where one of the best celebrations on the school calendar was the annual Harvest Festival. I think I preferred this even to the Nativity, (possibly because, due to an untimely attack of the mumps, I never got to dress up as an angel. God moves in mysterious ways).

Whether it was made more of back in those days, or whether it was because we were a rural community surrounded by farmland, Harvest Festival meant something to us. We spent time rehearsing harvest hymns, understanding the sentiment of ‘ploughing the fields and scattering the good seed on the land.’ We may not have, as children, appreciated ‘all good gifts around us’ but our village certainly had them in abundance. We were all encouraged to bring something in for our harvest table, which would later be transferred to the church up the road for the Sunday service and then distributed to elderly folks in the community.

I don’t think my sister and I, or any of the other children for that matter, were aware that there were needy folk in our village; we assumed it was just a nice gesture, and we’d rush home to tell Mum and Nanna that it was time to make our harvest baskets.  pyo-mushroom-basket[1]

Nanna, my maternal grandmother (who lived with us), and Mum would help us create beautiful little baskets of fruit and vegetables to take in. We’d start with a cardboard mushroom punnet, cover it with crepe paper in autumnal colours and finish off with a contrasting zigzag around the edge. Next, we’d scrunch up some newspaper to put in the bottom before layering with some dried autumn leaves. On top of this, we would lay our vegetables: a few carrots, potatoes, beans; perhaps some apples or plums – anything to make a colourful arrangement – maybe a sprig of redcurrants to finish off, with a curling strand of ivy around the handle.

There was no competition – the girls at school tended to go the basket route while the boys favoured a box, jars of homemade jam, new laid eggs or simply an armful of one produce or another. The bakery always donated a loaf, in the shape of a wheat sheaf which formed the centre of the display. The trestle table creaked under the weight of our offerings.

photo from Pinterest

photo from Pinterest

One year, I remember, our harvest table looked a bit odd. Someone had added, in amongst the home-grown produce, a Fray Bentos pie. It sat menacingly, like an alien spacecraft, nestled amongst the corncobs and rhubarb. My sister, even more than me, was as outraged as any eight year old can be. The metal monstrosity had ruined our rural tableau of plenty.  Harvest Festival would never be the same again.

the offending pie

the offending pie

And it isn’t. While my sister and I cannot think back to that time without hilarious reference to that pie, which for us has overshadowed those old Cider with Rosie moments of harvest baskets, the Festival is now a time to remind ourselves that even in affluent, leafy, stockbroker-belt Surrey, there are families struggling to make ends meet. Some children, in this day and age, are coming to school hungry, not just because they missed their breakfast, but because they had no evening meal the night before, either. We are actively encouraging our students to bring a tin to school for our hectic local food bank. Someone, back in the day, had some foresight, after all, with that Fray Bentos pie.

Kind of brings the meaning of Harvest home, doesn’t it?

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