With the Labor Day holiday weekend behind us, summer vacationers are retreating back to the chill proof confines of their urban dwellings and folks are back to corporate demands while children reluctantly schlep back to school. Soon the cooling breezes will carry colorful foliage to coat the ground with a crunching cover where hikers shuffle though. All of this ambience officially ushers in the fall season and the Harvest Moon.
The full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox is dubbed the Harvest Moon. It was so named by farmers who appreciated its luminescence, which enabled them to carry out their harvesting duties for hours after the progressively earlier setting sun. Due to the position of the earth at this time of year, the moon rises earlier and thus provides the shortest period of true darkness. Because it rises even before the day's sun has set, the Harvest Moon takes on a slightly orange cast from the twilight sun. This year's Harvest Moon occurs on September 19.
Celebrate your local farmers by hosting a Harvest Moon dinner for your family and friends, showcasing the foods and beverages that are produced locally in your area. Here on Long Island, that's easily accomplished if you reside in central or eastern Suffolk County, a geographical advantage for which I am perpetually grateful. Many other areas across the United States feature weekend farmer's markets where local growers sell their goods from vending stalls. With the continual surge of cooking popularity and a quest to eat local, whole foods, the wares go beyond seasonal fruits and vegetables. Local artisans are producing cheeses, wines, meats, baked goods, honey, salsas, jams, craft beers and jarred pickled goods.
For my fellow Island dwellers, take a round trip across the eastern north fork, where you will run into so many opportunities to procure the makings for every course of the meal. Farm stands line the main route, offering the last of the summer's vegetables and peaches as well as the first autumn harvest. Fink's and Lewins farms is one of the north fork's iconic farm stands. Consider assembling one last heirloom tomato salad platter for a first course and creating a side dish with the season's premier golden butternut squash or ruby red beets. You may opt to bake one final peach pie, or you might take a break and purchase one of Briermere Farm's famous, luscious homemade pies instead. While you're there, purchase some freshly baked bread to accompany dinner or to slice and toast for an appetizer. Catapano Dairy Farm is the answer for your appetizer course, offering an array of award-winning cheeses. Long island's east end history once hosted duck farms all over the north fork. Today, Miloski's Poultry Farm provides fresh duck for an elegant entree. They also peddle a selection of other local poultry, Polish sausages and local eggs. Woodside Orchards sells an impressive selection of apple varieties as well as their own hard apple cider. On the subject of libations for your guests, Long Island is home to over fifty vineyards to fulfill all your wine sipping needs. When you reach the village of Greenport, be sure to stop in at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company for a growler or two of excellent craft brews for the beer aficionados on your guest list. This only begins to scratch the surface of all of the locally produced edible gems that Long Island has to offer. For those who reside elsewhere, do a little sleuthing online for your area. While the selection may be on a smaller scale, there are likely similar offerings that beckon your sampling.
Now that you have brought home all of the ingredients to make your Harvest Moon dinner, set up some outdoor comforts such as logs for the fire pit, blanket throws for late night conversations in the cooling breeze, settings on the table and glassware for cocktail sipping. Program some tunes and light a few candles. Patio decoration can also be obtained at the farm stands, which are now bursting with colorful potted mums and brimming with pumpkins, gourds, hay bales and Indian corn. Rustic wooden bowls of peaches and baskets of apples perform double duty as they decorate tables and provide healthy snacking options. Hollowed out acorn squash rinds can serve as bowls for nuts or olives. Orange napkins add a pop of autumnal color to neutral place settings on the table.
What's for dinner? Whatever you and your guests like. My menu would consist of:
· Goat cheese, fig and walnut crostini (recipe below)
· Autumn punch (recipe below)
· Grilled boneless duck breasts a honey, orange and sage glaze
· Roast butternut squash purée
· Grilled red and gold beets
· Grilled herbed potatoes
· Roast Brussels sprouts (recipe here)
· I would offer a couple of local wines and a local craft seasonal beer, and dessert would be a couple of locally baked pies and cookies.
What if it rains? Don’t sweat it. Place all of the seasonal décor indoors throughout the mingling, conversational and dining areas. Swap out the grilled duck and potatoes for roast duck breasts with garlic, rosemary and fennel instead, and serve that over mashed potatoes. You can roast the beets and either serve them as is or incorporate them into a warm beet salad.
Goat Cheese, Fig and Walnut Crostini
1 loaf of Italian bread, bias-sliced thin
Extra virgin olive oil
2 pints fresh figs, stems removed, cut into quarters
2 cups walnut halves
¼ cup chopped rosemary leaves
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on baking sheets and brush with olive oil. Place in the oven and toast until very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside. Meanwhile, place the walnuts in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat and toast them until very lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from the pan and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese and figs until the two are incorporated, then mix in the cooled walnuts. Spread two tablespoons of the goat cheese mixture onto each toasted slice of bread. Lightly drizzle half of a teaspoon of honey over each, and then sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of rosemary.
Autumn Gewurztraminer Punch
1 bottle of Gewurztraminer wine
1 cup apple juice
1 cup cranberry juice
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 apples, halved, cored and sliced
3 plums, halved, pitted and sliced
2 cups green grapes
In a large serving bowl or punch bowl, stir together the wine and juices. Place the cloves in a tea leaf ball or in a mesh sac made from cheesecloth and closed with string. Add this to the bowl. Allow the flavors to meld for a few hours in the refrigerator. At serving time, place some assorted fruit into each glass (I recommend pilsner glasses for this one!), then ladle the wine mixture to fill each glass three quarters. Top off each with a splash of seltzer, give a light stir and serve.
Whether hosting this festive affair outdoors or in, be sure to raise your glasses and gaze up at the impressive Harvest Moon and remember to give thanks to all of your local growers and artisans who made this dinner possible.