Over the weekend frost finally came down on the vegetable garden, killing off the plants that only a few weeks ago were triumphant in the harvest, leaving only the hardy greens, which bravely will keep producing until the frost comes every night and kills them off too. It’s a sad time for those who know intimately from their own labor how supermarket vegetables can’t come close to the snap of a freshly picked pole bean or pepper and how supermarket tomatoes imported from Florida, California, or a greenhouse somewhere resemble only in shape the tomatoes from a backyard garden or nearby farm.
Of course the local apples, pears, and winter squash will be around through the end of the year, and the cognoscenti fortunate enough to live near a fruit farm that still dares to make and sell unpasteurized cider will celebrate every sip as they righteously disdain the brutalized pasteurized stuff that makes only health departments happy. There is no evening tonic like four or five parts unpasteurized Connecticut cider to one part Tennessee whiskey to a half part fresh lemon juice served over ice. It will cure anything, even the state’s venal politics, at least for a few hours.
Sad as it always is, the first frost was right on schedule — Halloween time — and this year Connecticut’s rather short growing season was a good one, with gentle but adequate rain and plenty of sun and warmth, a happy contrast with the floods in the Midwestern breadbasket and the South and the wind-stoked fires that have devastated California all year despite the state’s reputation for temperate weather.
Indeed, old Connecticut can be surprisingly productive agriculturally. Almost any homeowner here with a sunny spot on his property and some chicken-wire fencing to discourage the rabbits, woodchucks, and deer can impress family and friends with fresher and better-tasting vegetables as well as the quiet glory of nature — and in the process can get some productive exercise and a healthy tan. No work on a treadmill at the gym can accomplish that.
Connecticut is too small, hilly, rocky, and developed for agriculture here to be consistently profitable or to make a national reputation, and farm work is too hard a career for most people, who never have to break a sweat to earn their livings behind a computer screen or a cash register. The state’s once-famous shade tobacco industry that not so long ago employed thousands of teenagers every summer is dying out, which may not be such a tragedy amid the unhealthfulness of smoking, though there may be worse things than a cigar after dinner on the deck or patio — like television news and talk shows.
But as times and politics become so hateful and stupid, it can be a blessing to be overlooked and left alone like those who work Connecticut’s soil on the farm or in the back yard. Now for a few months the soil will sleep and renew itself under the snow, the farmers and their helpers here and elsewhere having done their jobs for another year. They will reflect on what worked well and what didn’t and plan to do better come spring. Once again the old hymn thanks them and, most of all, as Gov. Wilbur L. Cross would say, the Creator and Preserver:
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin.