By Penn Parmenter:
I miss parties. Remember those good old fashioned gatherings where people got together, brought food, told stories, stayed up too late, and kept munching every hour or so?
This fall I hope to revive our big ol’ Harvest Party. We always asked people to bring food from their gardens and tell us about their garden season. With each climatic year being so different in Colorado, the stories always varied but we learned that wins and losses seemed to happen regionally. People compared notes to discover that no one could grow a bean that year! We’d howl with laughter and hug each other, feeling much better knowing it wasn’t happening just to us. Building community this way rewarded us with new friends, new gardening ideas, and mouth-watering deliciousness.
One of the best parts of a Harvest Party is learning new ways to prepare food. We try each other’s culinary delights and share recipes. Sometimes we’d hear, “It never occurred to me to serve it this way.”
We always have the grill going and one year we stuffed trout with garlic and butter wrapped in sorrel leaves. The flavor infusion was outstanding.
As hunters, wild meat over the open fire has been a must for us. We cut chunks of elk or venison, sometimes marinating it in tamari—or nothing at all. If you allow wild meat to thaw in the fridge for 2-5 days it tenderizes beautifully. Being a blacksmith, Cord has made us the best roasting forks ever, with extra long tines and handles. We bring those chunks of meat fireside and each person works their own fork. We might throw the saltshaker at it as it finishes but if we used tamari—no need. This happens fast; we want a crispy outside and a tender inside. Cord usually tests one first—his blacksmith fingers feel no pain—and starts making those primal noises uttered at campfires since humans started cooking meat. It comes off the forks onto a board and everyone tears into it. Humans have been feasting by campfires together for such long time, it gets you in touch with your DNA.
For our veggie friends we marinate and fire roast vegetables the same way.
Our son Beau likes to smoke meat so we always fill the top shelf with loads of vegetables. The taste is outrageous! One mixture we love includes peppers of all kinds, mushrooms, onion, garlic, eggplant, summer squash, fennel, carrots, and radishes all chunked into uniform pieces so they cook evenly. You could include cut up corn on the cob, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or beets; the list goes on. We regard this as a once in a while treat in order to limit food prep that results in consuming carcinogens.
We have fewer campfires these days due to drought and wildfires but when the wind isn’t blowing and it has rained recently we enjoy a fire under the stars—with water and shovels standing by to put the fire out if the wind kicks up.
We always serve giant bowls of washed and dried, wild and cultivated greens too, to go on top of or under the cooked food. No dressing, no other veg, just buck naked, huge handfuls of greens to stuff into our mouths. Late summer salads of every kind also grace the feast, plus everything kale, from kale chips to kale soup, a fall favorite.
For those who camped overnight we made ridiculous breakfasts with night-before leftovers. One family favorite is squash eggs, two ways. Our standard way to stretch eggs is to cut up fresh summer squash and sear it in a hot cast iron pan. It wants color on it but also to be left with a nice bite. In go the eggs to lightly scramble. Add some hot sauce and toast and down the pie-hole it goes. I have fed this dish to herds of men.
Another delicious way uses winter squash. We slice a small winter squash into half moons and roast them with a little olive oil on a sheet pan. The next morning I oil a cast iron pan, fill it with slices of cooked winter squash, sear the first side, flip them over, and crack an egg into each half moon circle. One more flip gives a perfect easy-over egg to break into the delectable orange flesh of the winter squash.
You know those ridiculous clubs of large zucchini? I cut them open long ways, scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh, stuff them with loads of veggies, meat or leftovers, top with Parmesan, and bake. We serve it up with a knife to cut whatever size chunk you want, then freeze what’s leftover.
Try stuffing some nasturtium leaves with goat cheese and a bit of honey and, if you want to go insane, a chunk of bacon. Close it with a toothpick and pass them around. Dress the bowl with pickled nasturtium seeds and a few of the flowers. Crack out the tomato, apple, onion chutney and spoon it over soft cheese to serve with hearty crackers. Everything fermented and pickled helps with digestion and induces belly rubs.
I haven’t even listed fall desserts— crumbles, pies, tomato sorbet, frozen grapes, peach leather dried in the open air, or apple cake.
I’m hungry now! Sweet gatherings with loved ones, colleagues, farmers, gardeners, even that neighbor you haven’t met yet, can surprise you with all that love of gardening and food. See you at the fire.
Penn & Cord Parmenter garden and grow food and seed near Westcliffe. Both are regional high-altitude gardening instructors and the founders of Smart Greenhouses LLC and Miss Penn's Mountain Seeds. Visit www.pennandcordsgarden.com