With the arrival of two willing workers passing through from Czech on their way back to England, we decided it was prime time to haul in the harvest.
Erntedank – harvest thanks; Thanksgiving; honouring the harvest with gratitude... every culture finds some way of capturing something of the harvest spirit in a seasonal celebration, characterised by fresh colour, diversity and sheer abundance.
Here in Germany, Erntedank occurs in the first week of October and always on a Sunday. It became a timely reason to invite friends and helpers to celebrate the gifts of the land and share good food together, enabling us to acknowledge all the help and support from the folk around us and from the land itself.
We cleaned out the hall and arranged packing crates around the central pillar creating a low table draped in old white sheets.
Something of everything found a place - a huge pumpkin occupying most of the surface of one crate, squash and Hokaido, tomatoes, peppers, elephant garlic, drying sweetcorn, courgette and aubergine, dried beans, beetroot and potatoes, carrots, parsnips, leeks, apples, pears and raspberries, spinach, walnuts, kohlrabi, cabbage and lettuce... and others hung from the pillar - a large string of onions, a branch of hops, a long red trail of vine berries in a deep autumnal red, a bright ring of chillies and the delicate orange of Chinese lanterns. The colours against the serene whitewashed walls and raw granite stone were spectacular.
Our first guests cheerfully dived into the mountain of windfall apples we had gathered in the morning and gradually the Waschkessel began to fill. It was a long and arduous job as this year so much of the fruit in this area is covered in surface blemishes. The flesh is still good, but selecting and preparing is an endless task.
Each new arrival happily joined in as old hands drifted off to clutch cups of hot tea, stoke the fire or begin chopping pumpkin and tomatoes for the cast iron potjie pot that would feed us all that night.
As the night drew in we gathered around our harvest and sang songs we half remembered, finding the words in our own languages whilst holding a common tune, harvest tunes that have somehow remained alive in spite of shifting traditions and the inflections of different languages.
We bottled the apple mousse the following day. It was so thick that heating it fully for preserving was impossible as it simply spluttered and spat. So, once packed into sterilised jars and sealed, we loaded them back into the Waschkessel and brought water to a rolling boil for a good twenty minutes, just to be sure.
A steam juicer is now the biggest wish on our list of things to manifest – scarred apples can simply be roughly cored and thrown in to result in fresh juice ready to bottle without any further ado.
Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com