It’s nearly over for another season, this luxury of buying fresh from the farm. Soon enough it will be time for storage carrots, and tomatoes that don’t know how to blush. And fruit, when not months-old apples or high-mileage bananas, will be stewed from frozen, before being ladled over Saturday pancakes and waffles.
As my wheels crunch over the gravel driveway and I park next to a sprawl of pumpkins overflowing their wooden crates, leaves let loose from a canopy of trees and fall into a dense and richly red carpet, walked on today by the neither rich nor famous.
There’s a hummus-y, vegetal smell of produce that’s both the fragrance of things ripening and and other things beginning to turn back into soil.
This is my favourite time of year.
With spring so fleeting and summer intense and hard working, it won’t be long before winter will snap down like a lid over a Tupperware bowl. A season of fallow that never quite feels like rest.
But Autumn, when pears are in season, seems an invitation to linger in sunshine that no longer has the intensity to burn. And when hot peppers, having soaked up the previous months of sunlight, now practically crackle with heat, ready to be turned into vats of hot sauce.
It’s impossible to know the exact date when the farm stand will put out bottles of its hard-to-get-your-hands-on blend.
As it turns out, I’ve come at very nearly, but not quite the right time.
I’ve arrived on cooking day. And as I walk across the yard and into the market, a cloud of capsaicin vapour grabs me around the throat.
The owner smiles apologetically. “Gonna be a good batch,” he says in a choke-y voice. “Did you miss the first one?”
“I guess I did,” I say, managing one syllable at a time.
“Twelve hundred bottles, gone. Come back tomorrow if you can.”
And so, with the nape of my shirt tugged up around my mouth and nose, I pick up a wire basket and begin to shop.
There’s a reason this is my favourite place for produce. Not only does it sell regional fruit and veg in a constantly changing assortment. It also makes its own butter chicken, which needs nothing, but a bed of basmati rice or naan.
In addition to supper for tonight, I pick up plump bunches of purple grapes. I buy ripe yellow pears, freshly-pressed grape juice, pickled peppers, three vegetarian samosas and two jars of last-of-the-season homemade freezer jam that glitters like berry- and stone fruit-coloured jewels.
By tomorrow, the pepper sauce should be ready.
For now, though, I return to my car a great deal richer than when I arrived. I leave and turn towards home, where fresh-from-the-oven loaves of my grandmother’s Mennonite Milk Bread will be just the thing to go with the jam.
Mennonite Milk Bread
1 Tbs active dry yeast
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup whole, warm milk
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs butter, melted
1 tsp salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk, beaten
Dissolve yeast and sugar in the 1/4 cup of water. Set in a warm place for 10 minutes, until frothy.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine milk, water, butter and salt, followed by the yeast mixture. Add flour and knead until dough comes together. Turn to medium-high speed and knead 8 minutes more.
Place dough in a buttered bowl and set, covered, in a warm place to rise until doubled; about 90 minutes.
Punch down, divide dough in half, and form into loaves. Place each in a buttered loaf pan, cover, and let rise until doubled. Brush tops with yolk.
Bake at 350F for 50 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.