Novel ideas

Categories: News and previews

Kate Young writes about her literary-inspired culinary creations on her blog, The Little Library Café and has just published her second book, The Little Library Year. She ponders literary depictions of the autumn harvest, which inspired the dishes she’ll be cooking up in her Harvest Celebration demo

“Myself, my family, my generation, were born in a world of silence; a world of hard work and necessary patience, of backs bent to the ground, hands massaging the crops, of waiting on weather and growth…”—Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee

‘Harvest’, from an Old English word that means autumn, refers to the end of the growing season; that gathering of crops and grains and fruits before the winter arrives in earnest. The word is a nimble one, functioning as both a noun and a verb: a time of year (the harvest) as well as an action that we can participate in (to harvest). It is my favourite season, the months I always look forward to the most, as much for the cooler days and changing leaves as for the proliferation of produce to be savoured.

My participation in the annual harvest is a peripheral one. In the Market I fill my bags with fruits and vegetables and dream up ways to utilise the spoils of the season. I harvest what little I have access to myself (the blackberries I pass on my morning run and the last of the blackcurrants in my neighbour’s garden). I pull books about apples and about farming the land down from the shelf. But it is easy, with my narrow experience, to romanticise this time of year—to wax lyrical about apples and squashes and autumn leaves and abundance. In reality (and in fiction), the harvest is about hard work; about toil and pressure and timing, about the weather co-operating, and a bit of luck going your way.

Employing the spoils
In Laurie Lee’s memoir Cider with Rosie, set in gorgeous, apple-rich Gloucestershire, that hard work is felt on every page. It’s work that is paired with hope for a good, rich harvest—one which will see the Stroud valley residents through the difficult winter ahead. In The Grapes of Wrath, drought and the Depression and years of bad harvests force the Joad family off their farm, in search of a better life. And in Stella Gibbons’ peerless comedy Cold Comfort Farm, the challenge of the harvest is a surprise to the newly arrived Flora Poste. The characters seem to be perpetually harvesting something or other and the book notes that the harvest “took a long time and was very difficult to do”.

But when the harvest has been a good one, it is worth celebrating and there are myriad ways to employ the spoils in your kitchen. Do as Elizabeth’s mother does in Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl in the School and pack a jar of hedgerow jam in your tuckbox. Make a batch of flaky, buttery pumpkin scones, like the ones Mem Fox’s Grandma Poss and Hush find in Possum Magic. Revel in endless soups made with root vegetables pulled from beneath the earth. As the Mock Turtle sings in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish / Game, or any other dish? / Who would not give all else for two / Pennyworth only of beautiful soup?”

Join Kate for free tips, tastings and recipes Thursday 24th October in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm