What's In Season: October
October is the beginning of harvest for almost nothing in the New York area. In fact, after scouring all our resource material, we could only find two veggies that just begin picking season in October: fennel and parsnips. Worse, things start dropping off the in-season list, particularly in the area of fruit. The list gets even smaller in November, so the time to enjoy the last of everything pulled from the ground is now. No wonder there is so much fanfare about this season.
Carved Pumpkins/PH888 /Shutterstock.com
October begins the series of end-of-year celebrations in America - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, all of which have their food-based traditions. To be fair, most American holidays center around a feast (there's a reason we look the way we do), but Halloween, October's kickoff to the festivities, does not afford farmers the opportunity to bless a dinner table.
Agricultural participation at Halloween is generally limited to supplying pumpkins for carving and corn husks for scarecrows or other decor. Not so in other countries.
Canada, for example, celebrates arguably the most farm-focused holiday of the year on the second Sunday of October, Thanksgiving. Like the American version, Canadian Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest and other blessings of the year. Also known by the French Canadians as Action de grâce (the action of grace), Canadians have given thanks in
October for things such as getting through a harrowing trip from the mainland (the first Thanksgiving) or celebrating the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a severe illness.
Canadian Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude as ambiguous as American Thanksgiving has become, and the feast is equally center-stage. Tables are filled with turkey, stuffing, yams, corn, squash, pumpkin, and apple pies, but you might also find ham, roast beef, or even a Jigg's Dinner corned beef on the menu. Try that in America, and watch the gratitude melt away.
Jigg's Dinner/Carolyn Parsons-Janes/Shutterstock.com
In Germany, there is, of course, Oktoberfest (which actually begins mid to late- September and only ends on the first Sunday of October). It may now be a carnival of inebriation, but it was, earlier in its history, organized by the Agricultural Association of Bavaria. Bavaria was primarily an agricultural economy at the time, so it made sense. Organizers swapped the original feature - a horse race - for an agricultural show. The agricultural show eventually took a back seat to drinking, dancing, and eating. Brathendl - chicken seasoned with paprika and herbs and roasted on a spit - is the most popular food served at Oktoberfest but Germans in the know will skip this expensive chicken and head to the agricultural fair stalls, where they can sample the finest of German farm fare for half the price. While the agricultural fair is now only held every three years and is mostly unknown to the global public, it remains Oktoberfest's longest-standing tradition.
Back at home, we celebrate the harvest this month in less cohesive ways. This is a favorite month for state fairs featuring pumpkin contests and caramel apples across the country. In New York City, the Food Network hosts the New York Wine & Food Festival - a huge series of over 80 events in restaurants across the city. Proceeds go to God's Love We Deliver, a charity beloved by New Yorkers that delivers food to New Yorkers struggling with illness. Festivities include farm-to-table favorites such as a Farmer's Market brunch by White Claw, or an intimate dinner with Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern or Charlie Foster of Woods Hill Table.
Sadly, this month's first fruits to celebrate are less abundant. Only fennel and parsnips begin their harvest season in October, but let's do this month Canadian-style and count our blessings. November will be the last month of local harvest for everything beyond roots and a few hearty greens. So much of the farm fare we have enjoyed over the last two seasons will be gone. We will, of course, celebrate the winter harvest in our own American tradition, but why wait?
Here's what's in season in October:
Roots & Shrooms
Shell Beans & Gourds
*indicates that October is the first month of harvest for this crop in the NY area