We traveled across the river and north to Arkansaw in Pepin County, Wisconsin yesterday to gather with close friends and family to celebrate the harvest.  And bounty we had, despite the many challenges, starting with the fruit tree blossom freeze and moving on to the slug-fest, only to be “relieved” by the lack of rainfall and extreme heat.  Then came the never-ending squash bugs and cucumber beetles, the rodent population explosion, and the discovery of aster yellows in the garlic crop.  Only the tomatoes and peppers thrived this year with every other crop reduced in yield and/or vigor due to the weather or related pests.  So despite our commitment to avoid unnecessary travel to reduce our contribution to environmental decline, we deemed this trip a much needed social recharge that had been well earned.

Our homegrown feast included black beans, wild rice pilaf, cornbread stuffing with mushroom gravy, squash bisque with “chick” peas, flax crackers, roasted root veggies with sauerkraut, green salad, cider with strawberry juice, and many small treats such as roasted peppers in balsamic dressing.  A couple of items on the menu were made possible with canned goods from last year’s surpluses such as highbush cranberry jelly and canned apple cider, which were either non-existent or in very short supply this year.  All of this good food left us feeling quite content and incredibly fortunate, but we still managed to find room for some pumpkin custard or spelt-crusted pie and gluten-free apple crisp.  We did walk off a few calories as we enjoyed our yearly after dinner stroll across the fields and down the road.  But this annual feast had offered something that we had never before experienced at Thanksgiving.  It was served alfresco – a late November picnic more likely to have happened in the state of Arkansas than in Arkansaw, Wisconsin.

While the weather was a physically pleasant experience, we were a bit unnerved by it coming on the heels of such a weird weather year for the entire country.  So although today’s howling winds, swirling snow, and sub freezing temperatures may be a bit of a shock after yesterday’s indulgence, it at least makes us northerners feel more at ease and that our world is on its “normal” track.

This past week PBS ran the Ken Burns documentary “The Dust Bowl”.  Among the many messages there were to take away from this timely work was that the plowing up of all the land to cash in on a high value crop (wheat due to World War I) was incredibly short-sighted.  The wheat bonanza attracted investment speculators, with the result a bit like the corn boom now taking place across the heartland.  If you haven’t had the chance to see this film yet, look for your local public TV station to rerun it or check your library to see if they’ll have it available.

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