The third grade celebrates the harvest through the Hebrew tradition of Sukkot, a festival which centers on (among other things) giving thanks for the bounty of the year’s harvest. In the field behind the garden, the kids and parents have built a temporary structure out of bamboo poles and tree branches, and decorated it with garlands. The whole class will sleep out in it, under the stars, in the wet wet dew, proving the beyond-what-they-teach-you-in-college dedication of their teacher. Parents are also welcome, though most have brought tents. As we gather in the evening, the Jewish parents in the class explain the Sukkot tradition and ceremony, and then we all join in a potluck feast.
The garden committee, diehards that we are, have requested that each contribution to the feast be grown by either the family or someone that the family knows, to deepen our connection to the food. The table literally bends under the weight of the food, the kids trading stories of what they have brought. On the part of the kids, there is great anticipation of the rabbit meatballs provided by the family that raises meat rabbits; the parents, on the other hand, mostly have our eyes on the gorgeous plate of figs brought by Laura, queen of a vast permaculture garden. And there’s a humongous vat of matzo ball soup, putting to shame my jars of pickled beets and marinated green beans. I made these Southern standards a week ahead, got the potluck imperative off my calendar for the week, whew. But then, of course, I made the mistake of asking The Percussionist (my third grader) if there was anything special he wanted to bring, so of course there I was in my kitchen the day of, roasting his acorn squash.
He was so proud of that one squash, the only one that survived my tendency to kill all winter squash starts through some essential neglect that I have yet to figure out. I mean, we plant the seeds, and we water them when we remember. Shouldn’t that be enough? But that acorn squash meant a lot to him, since it came from some seeds shared with us by his drumming mentor. He watched it grow all summer, and carefully protected it from gopher attack by balancing it atop a wire cage. I had pictured making it the center of a meal for the four of us, celebrating it. But instead I sliced it into enough pieces to share with the class and stuck it in the oven. My pyrex dish with its scraps of ungarnished squash is mortified that the only place I can find for it is next to Laura’s figs. I sneak it onto the table and slink away.
The kids load up their plates (brought from home, but of course—no disposable items!) with food, and settle into small groups to eat. The Percussionist ends up close enough to me that I can see his plate, conspicuously missing any squash. A glance back at the food table confirms my fears: the squash lies basically untouched. So, what’s a humiliated parent to do? Well, cheat, of course. I have actually already cheated on the squash, dotting it with local organic butter, and then at the last minute before it went into the oven, sprinkling it with a little brown sugar, something that to my knowledge, is not now nor has ever been locally produced. So all I have to do now is start a rumor.
I whisper to The Percussionist: “You didn’t try your special squash.”
Nine years old, he knows everything. “I know.”
“But I made it just for you, because you asked me to.” I mean, I know it doesn’t actually look that appetizing, especially in contrast to the gourmet figs, but… “And,” I add in a low voice, “I put sugar on it.”
The eyes open wider, the shoulders straighten up. “Sugar?!” Not that he never has sugar at home, but this meal is noticeably not so sugary, and we haven’t yet brought out the various (regular, regular with nuts, gluten free, vegan, etc) apple crisps we’ll serve for dessert. So, he’s off, getting a piece of squash with infectious if non-locally sweetened enthusiasm—the casserole dish quickly starts to empty. Mission accomplished. And I stop obsessing, so I don’t know if it is all eaten or some is fed to the worms, but at least I know my guy partook of his own personal harvest festival. Sweet.
Drummer’s Acorn Squash
Get some seeds from someone special to you, then nurture them enough to produce at least one bright orange acorn squash. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (or less if you’re not in a hurry). Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, consider saving them and then decide to feed them to the chickens “just this once,” because you are running a bit late and have a lot to do and the kitchen is already enough of a mess. Cut the halves into pieces about 2” by 2” or whatever size you want, lay them face up in a casserole dish and dot each with butter, then sprinkle the whole thing with brown sugar (not too much, just enough to pique the interest of a third grader). Stick it in the oven, get dressed for the potluck, feed the animals, then, just before you leave the house, turn off the oven, pull the dish out and bring it along. Try to enjoy the harvest festival without worrying too much about whether you remembered the step of turning off the oven and whether your house is burning down. Leak the info about the sugar if necessary.
Laura’s Yum-ola Figs
If you prefer a more impressive potluck contribution, here’s Laura’s email to me about how she made her figs:
Sliced figs brushed with a mint honey water (dilute the honey a bit so it is in a liquid state, add minced mint, I used spearmint)
Bake @ 450* for about 15-20 minutes, or until they begin to brown
At this point I let them cool (more for time than method)
Then I stuffed them with a bit of feta cheese (mine was cow feta) and broiled them for 5-7 minutes
Then I placed them on large basil leaves ("lettuce basil" is what I used) for serving