Autumn is the time of year I most identify with my agricultural roots. The harvest, after all, is the zenith of the agricultural sea- son, and everyone, no matter where you live or lived, can identify with the notion of a bounty. While I lived in Ottawa and Toronto, people I met were always surprised that I grew up on a farm, and my response was always along the lines of “we don’t always wear coveralls or drive tractors!”
This Saturday, we ventured to Appleland Station near Dorchester for some autumnal family fun. Charlotte won’t be a “farm kid” like I was but it’s for that very reason that I find it important that she is familiar with agriculture, even from a young age. When farming is part of your daily existence, you take it for granted; it’s only been the past few years that I’ve come to really cherish my childhood. Farm kids grow up in an unorthodox playground which spurs the imagination, even 30 years on.
On my grandparents’ farm a few doors down from our farm, there was a road, though more like a rutted pathway, leading from the house and barns to the back field, a roughly five-acre parcel of land separated from the main acreage by a small creek. Apple trees lined this route, planted long before my grandparents arrived, and left to return to the wild as my grandparents grew older and their kids, including my father, grew up and moved on.
It always felt like us kids were doing something risque´ when we walked down this path. The long grass concealed remnants of farm equipment parked where they ceased being useful. The back of the barns were never as well maintained as the sides which faced the highway. It was a bit of a no-man’s land, wild and unfamiliar. And of course, to actually be back there meant you were out of eyeshot of any adult — the equivalent to winning the lottery for curious kids.
The apples themselves, however, weren’t nearly as appealing as their locale. Bitter green balls, we tried to eat them every summer, forgetting without fail their sourness when faced with fresh produce. (Closer to the house, there was a vine which yielded grapes with a similar flavour; even my eight-year-old self could tell that the wine these awful little orbs produced wasn’t of the finest vintage.)
But there was one tree that bucked this trend. Smack in the middle of the main field was a massive pear tree. Its location bore no agricultural logic — and it’s not like pear trees are a dime a dozen, either. When September rolled around, Mom and us kids would drive the pickup truck carefully though the ripening soybeans or recklessly through the wheat stubble and my monkey-like brother would climb from the cab’s roof into the tree’s expansive branches to pick its bounty. Maybe the tree’s bizarre location lent it some kind of magical powers, as those pears, unfertilized and feral, were absolutely perfect for eating.
Sadly — or, realistically, in these dwin- dling days of the family farm — no more apples or pears grow at “grandma’s place.” With my parents moving to St. Marys and my brother wanting to gain a precious few more acres, the old house, barns and trees are no longer. When I do make it home — and it always will be, in its own way — I’m habitually taken aback by this new landscape, so different than my memories.
One thing that the pear tree and apple orchard shared was their smell, a faint fresh sweetness, warmed by sunshine and carried by southerly winds. It’s something I forgot, at least until we set foot into Appleland’s orchards on Saturday. Times change, but memories thankfully remain.
Savoury sausages are a treat on a bun in the summer. Come fall, they make a perfect base for hearty meals, especially if they’re from McCully’s or Hayter’s. Polenta — cooked cornmeal — is as comforting as mashed potatoes.
Bangers and Mash with Parmesan Polenta
6 sausages of your choice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp. sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
In a skillet, cook sausages over low heat until done. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring broth to a boil with sundries tomatoes. Gradually stir in cornmeal with a wooden spoon and let cook on medium-low heat, stirring often, until thick and creamy. Blend in parmesan and half of the chives. Add pepper to taste. In a bowl, mix remaining chives, parsley, basil and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve sausages over polenta, garnished with fresh herb mixture. Serves six.