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October 25, 2011

Today was the last day for my downtown farmers’ markets. No, I don’t know what happened to October. How about September? Fall sneaks up on you – even as I anticipate it as my favorite season, culminated by my favorite holiday, Halloween.

Although Halloween marks the darkening of the days, the end of warm weather, the death of the summertime growing season, it has its own magic and excitement that is hard to explain. First of course, there’s the costuming – where some hidden alter ego of yourself can come out and play. But there’s also the strange fun of looking fear and mortality in the face and making light of it. We welcome death and decay to our yards and houses, hoping to spook a few candy-seeking children. We know that, as October’s dying day, Halloween marks another kind of end. And we celebrate anyway. We celebrate more because we know it’s the finale.

On November 2nd I’ll be going to my first Day of the Dead celebration in the South Side neighborhood of Pilsen. The theme this year is “Muertos de la Risa” (dead of laughter). The combination of the bright colors and the macabre, the festivities, and the plenty of this traditional Mexican holiday (enough food for your family AND your ancestors to share) always appealed to me.

No matter how you’re celebrating in autumn, the plenty of the season and the harvest figures in somehow. The sheer diversity of produce to be found at the markets over this past month shows summer going out with a bang. Cool-season crops reappear side by side with long-ripening squashes and apples, while root vegetables like potatoes and onions are into full swing at the same time. I’ve been dumbfounded by the variety of colors, too- mirroring the many bright shades of autumn leaves, and more.

Like this:

Or this. Look at that amazing bumpy texture!

My feeling as I stood amid the bounty of the Last farmers’ market in Federal Plaza, under the Nichols tent, was that same late-October elation and sense of loss. Kind of the way Halloween lovers feel once the weekend’s over. The three usual guys behind the table were there to help me cope.

“So… what am I going to do now?” I asked them, only half-serious.

They laughed: “I know what I’m going to do,” said one. “Have a life!” Bringing in and selling all those crops is hard work. Then he marked down the pumpkins and kale for me, unasked-for, and suggested a few Saturday markets around the city.

A couple weekends ago, in Western Springs, we brought in the fruits of our church’s first (organic) vegetable garden, but with significantly less work. One small raised bed in the sunny area behind the building was a good start for our small congregation. Tended only minimally over the summer, it had become a rambling profusion of vines and leaves. Hidden under all the greenery were plenty of fat eggplants, tomatoes large and small, peppers, and even two big cabbage heads. As I helped our family and other members reap the final harvest, I deemed the experiment a success.

The produce was donated to a local shelter for women, so they could eat and cook with some fresh veggies. The abundance of the harvest is something meant to be shared while it lasts.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Fuzzy permalink
    October 26, 2011 12:28 am

    Glad to see you writing! I am glad to see that you will be going to the day of the dead celebration. As you are aware the skull candies made there can last for MANY months. (as proven by a college experience;).

    We are in the process of getting out own “calabaza” for Halloween and I look forward to eating its content.

    Question: What happens now that winter is here? What crops grow or can be get fresh during these months?

    • October 27, 2011 9:54 am

      HAHA I forgot about that! You know, I’m pretty sure I still have that mini-pumpkin I painted somewhere. 🙂

      I’ve never actually baked pumpkin before to eat in a recipe. I have two small ones at home that I bought this week and I’m excited to try it!

      And, a good question. You can eat “storage crops” all winter like potatoes, onions, and carrots, assuming you stored them. I didn’t yet, but hopefully I can still stock up. We chopped up and froze a bunch of our tomatoes from the garden, but they won’t last all winter. And I believe you can get fresh mushrooms at any time of year because they can be grown indoors. Stay tuned because I will be writing about this in future entries!!

  2. Brekke permalink
    November 1, 2011 9:51 pm

    Hey Vera,

    Just read this and wanted to let you know. The co-op will have everything we possible can local all year round. One of those things is def. mushrooms.

    Also, the Logan Square market moves inside the Congress Theater for the winter months and has some stuff for a while still (apples and the like).

    You’ll find some stuff just fine, of that I am sure!

  3. November 7, 2011 10:55 am

    Yep I love the Logan Square winter farmers’ market and I’ll definitely be going there this winter! It’s harder to make it to than the downtown farmers’ market though because we’re not always around on the weekend, versus downtown on the weekdays, when I could always stop by on my lunch from work.

    It would be great to see more local storage onions and potatoes at the Pickle!

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