Fall festivals: five delicious ways to celebrate

There’s something really depressing about seeing the last of the tomatoes, corn, and stonefruit at the farmers market, the withering vines in my neighbor’s gardens. But fall is also an exciting time for produce geeks, what with all the peppers and squash, pomegranates and persimmons.

If you love yourself some good food and drink, here are five reasons to welcome fall. No matter where you live in the North America, at least one of these is guaranteed to be coming soon to a town near you.

1. Hit a harvest festival
From the hokey (corn mazes, hay rides) to the downright debaucherous (late-night live music and beer gardens, camping in orchards), harvest festivals are a blast, no matter what your age. A great harvest festival will include delicious food; local craft beer, cider, or wine; farm tours and seminars; a children’s area and special activities; live music, and, if you’re lucky, a beautiful, bucolic setting in which to experience it all. Some festivals run the span of a weekend, providing an opportunity to take in more of the educational offerings.

Below are some of my favorite festivals, all of which have an educational component to them. Should you find yourself in Northern California in early October, it’s worth a detour to attend the famous Hoes Down Harvest Festival (Oct.1-2) at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, near Davis. It’s one hell of a party (there’s also a top-notch children’s activity area, so little people will have fun, too); definitely plan on camping in the orchard and bring your swim suit; the farm is located beside Cache Creek.

Other great celebrations of fall: Vashon Harvest Farm Tour (Sept. 25), Vashon Island, WA; CUESA Harvest Festival (Oct. 22), Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco, CA; Annual Harvest Festival, Sustainable Settings (mid-Sept.; date varies, but mark your calendars for next year!) Carbondale, CO.

September 22nd, from 7:30-9pm, the 16th Annual Harvest in the Square is being held in Union Square; online tickets are still available until tomorrow at noon for what is one of New York’s premier food and wine events. Some general admission tickets will be available at the event for a higher price.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zakVTA]2. Check out Crush
In North America, the wine grape harvest is held in September or October, depending upon weather patterns. In Napa Valley, “Crush” has just started, and with it, fall colors on the vines; barrel tastings; special winery tours, wine-and-cheese pairings, and up-close-and-personal views of the Crush itself. Even if you’re not an oenophile, it’s by far the most beautiful time to visit Napa and it’s neighboring wine region, Sonoma Country. For Napa wineries and event listings, click here. For California’s Central Coast wine region events, click here.

Check out wine harvest events in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Washington state’s Yakima and Walla Walla regions, and British Columbia’s Fraser and Okanogan Valleys (go to Wines of the Northwest for events calendar on all of the aforementioned); for New York’s Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, and other regions go to Uncork New York!

3. Go apple picking
With apple-growing regions scattered all over North America–from Virginia and Pennsylvania to New York, Washington state, British Columbia, and California–there’s no shortage of opportunities to attend festivals or U-picks. This traditional fall pastime is a fun activity for kids and supports the local economy and foodshed. Put up apple butter, -sauce, or freeze a pie for Thanksgiving, but be sure to save enough for winter (all apples and pears are placed in cold storage once the growing season ends, so the fruit you buy later in the season won’t be freshly picked). Store in a cool, dry, dark place. P.S. Don’t forget to buy some cider doughnuts if they’re available.

Please note that due to unusual weather patterns (aka “global warming”) this past year, the harvest is delayed in many parts of the country, including Washington. Check with local farms before heading out.

4. Visit a cidery
If you prefer your apples fermented, there are some excellent craft cideries throughout North America. The tradition of craft cider distilling hails from Western Europe, but domestically, the hot spots are the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia), parts of the Midwest, and the Northeast.

5. Feast at a farm dinner
For food lovers, few things beat dining outdoors in an orchard or pasture, surrounded by the people and ingredients that made your meal possible. Farm dinners are a growing national trend; they may be hosted independently by the farm (Washington’s Dog Mountain Farm, Colorado’s Zephyros Farm, and California’s Harley Farms Goat Dairy are my picks) or hosted by companies like Portland, Oregon’s Plate & Pitchfork and Boulder’s Meadow Lark Farm Dinners. Many farm dinners are fundraisers to help protect local agricultural easements or wetlands, but your participation also supports the farm and local foodshed.

Farm dinners are also held at wineries, distilleries, craft breweries, mariculture farms, and creameries; a tour should be included. The best part, however, is when the guests include everyone from the local cheesemaker, rancher, fisherman, or winemaker, to the potter who made the plates. It’s both humbling and gratifying to meet the people who work so hard to ensure local communities have a safe, sustainable food supply.

[Photo credits: grapes, Flickr user minnucci]

Early fall events in Carmel

My good friend who used to live and work in Carmel took me on a stroll through the historic town earlier this month and she found herself nostalgic. I let her relive her days working in the art gallery that has since been taken over by yet another, different gallery, and her evenings full of meeting military men who attended school nearby in Marina. If that wasn’t enough, we had coffee at her old haunt, where she nearly broke down into tears remembering the smell of the place.

It seems if you’ve been in Carmel long enough it sticks with you long after you leave. Here are a few fall events that will make you want to stay in Carmel for longer – or perhaps for life.

Harvest Carmel – September 26-27: A 2-day event celebrating agriculture, viticulture, cheese, and good times; 50 chefs, more than 100 wineries, organic gardening seminars, barbecue seminars, wine tastings, cheese tastings, kid’s interactive kitchen, live music. www.harvestcarmel.com

21st Annual Taste of Carmel – October 1: A celebration of food and wine in the Courtyard of the Mission; tickets are $85. www.tasteofcarmel.com ; #831-624.2522

Carmel Art and Film Festival – October 8-11: Total arts immersion, four days filled with world-class film, music, fine art, and photography, photography, art and film lectures throughout the festival, a two-day art fair in Devendorf Park, a juried photography exhibition at the Marjorie Evans Gallery at the Sunset Cultural Arts Center, films curated by John Cooper (the Director of the Sundance Festival) http://www.carmelartandfilm.com

Band on the Run: Naked Harvesting in Eastern Ontario

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

I’m sitting in my kitchen on a brief sojourn from the road and I am completely exhausted. The cause of my exhaustion is, for once, not road travel or air travel or too many gigs stacked up next to each other; this time, the cause is simply:


My apple tree did a serious shake down this past week while I was away in Hawaii and BC and dropped nearly all of its fruit in giant piles in the grass. I think there’s exhibitionism going on in my yard because the tree is standing almost entirely naked and fairly happy, right next to the now naked and smug blackberry patch that surely cajoled the tree into joining the illicit streak show.

So what do musicians do when they’re not on the road? They harvest. At least this one does. Although, I must admit that I felt a bit like a voyeur today at the all-natural peep show.

Worshipping at the foot of a bare fruit tree, I was on my hands and knees for two and a half hours gathering apples for both the compost and the kitchen pots (those rotted and those salvageable, respectively). I rose from the task feeling purged of all things artificial like recycled airplane air, fluorescent lights, and electromagnetic rays.

Now, another three hours later, the pots are bubbling and I am typing with fingers smarting from the natural acid in the fruit. Is this the poison often mentioned in historic religious literature? If so, may it steer my fingers to type naughtier words than normal because I’m currently feeling far too domestic, too housewife-like, too traditional for my own good.

It’s contrary to my modern self-perception.

I guess this is the inherent push-pull of good and evil. The one that sits beneath all choices as though there is a cleave or a divide inside each of us. It has been etched into ours heads via years of Christian indoctrination – the kind that simply happens to all those who live in the West, regardless of religious affiliation. It’s everywhere, of course. There will forever be something so wholesome about a beautiful ripe apple and something so simultaneously devilish about the desire to bite into it.

Am I having an “Eve” moment, or what?

Some people wonder what musicians do when they’re not on the road. At this time of year, besides some writing and correspondence, I don’t do much else besides harvest. Then, as the old folks around here call it, I “put up” the food in glass jars, preserving apple sauce, tomato sauce, pickles, relishes, salsa, (maybe even some pickled beets this year), all of which become perfect holiday presents . . . from a musician who doesn’t earn much in the winter climate when there’s lots of snow and hardly any driving tours.

And, I must admit that this is also a calculated survival technique, really. I always know that I won’t go hungry, as do my friends who often help with this process. In fact, tonight, my neighbours arrived spontaneously and before the conversation truly began, I had two extra knives and cutting boards on the table while laughingly saying, “Hey, nice to see you! C’mon in – here’s a knife!” They laughed too, but still sat down with love and compassion, especially when they looked at the piles of apples gathered and knew I was alone here in this quest to cook them down before leaving for another road trip tomorrow.

[Headline: Crazy Lady Gathers Too Many Apples, Needs Neighbours to Get to the Core of the Problem!]

Because, for me, it is always a race against time with this gardening and harvesting mission. If we’re off the road for a few days, I have to actually choose something to “deal with” before heading out again. For instance, if there are too many tomatoes, they have to be blanched and frozen, at the very least. If there’s time, there’s always the possibility of a simmering pot of pasta sauce on the stove all day made with fresh basil, oregano, peppers and onion – all from the garden as well, of course.

On this brief break, on this particular week, I had no choice but to focus on apples.

It makes my life seem rather simple sometimes when really it is everything but. It all simmers down to one task and that task was apples. And the simple truth behind that singular vision is this: when you grow food, you have to either eat it or preserve it. Otherwise, it’s a waste. And, to me, wasted food (especially organic and home grown) is just a crying shame.

Crazy, really.


So, when the apples are ripe (or, in this case, already shed and threatening to decompose) they simply have to be gathered, washed, cored and cooked down. There is nothing else to be done that is more important.

They mon-apple-ize your time, let’s just say.

(C’mon, that was funny!)

My friends who visit or my neighbours who stop by have always just been rolled into these food projects and they walk away with the fruits of their labour, literally! Tonight, my amazing neighbours (Dale & Louise) took a whole box of apples home with them (and I mean, a big box!). I was relieved. There’s not enough stove space tonight and there was writing to do and laundry and packing for the next weekend festival, as well as the general clean-up that harvesting warrants, not to mention my personal need to bathe.

(Which I’m sure the audiences will appreciate.)

And really, when you find the plants, bushes and trees in your yard itching to shed their edibles, should we not celebrate such blatant acts of liberation? Otherwise, it’s just me here in my yard in the remote countryside, dressed in my garden get-up, getting grass stains on the knees of my jeans and feeling anything but sexy.

Maybe I should join in the party and harvest naked next year?

Now there’s temptation.

Grapes of Bordeaux

You can’t go to the Bordeaux region of France and not became a wine aficionado. I learned quite a bit about the biggest wine region in the world this week. Some of the world’s favorite reds (think Margaux) come from right here here.

First of all, as you can see from the picture, the grapes are very low, about 5 inches from the ground. I am told it is because the soil here is very sandy and light, thus it reflects sun and provides even more heat for the grapes. Also, at night, when temperatures drop dramatically, the soil retains heat and so the grapes can ripen even at night. Their skins are apparently very thick so getting all the heat you can get is the key.

Also, all Bordeaux wine are blends, usually Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Although, when I saw how many runners at the Marathon du Medoc (which I blogged about yesterday) urinated in the vineyards, it made me think that maybe it is not the Merlot that gives Bordeaux wines its specific aroma. The harvest starts in two weeks. So if you see a label that says “2006 blend”, think about that.