Those who live in city or suburb miss the full richness of the fall harvest, when the leaves turn to brilliant red and gold, the stubbled fields are dotted with giant bolsters of hay, and the farm stands overflow with apples and pumpkins and jams.
It is the abundance before the want of winter. Or at least it was once, before supermarkets made that dearth a thing of the past and offered us exotic, fresh-picked foods the whole year round.
Come fall, it seems our genes remember. It has not been that many generations since survival depended on full root cellars and hams dangling from the rafter, since gathering in the garden and slaughtering the hogs were a way of life.
It is a memory that whispers to those who hunker down in duck blinds on cold, raw mornings. It leads others to the kitchen to make jams and jellies which, for less money and a good deal less trouble, they could buy at a local store.
The Fall Equinox is behind us now and next week will see the rising of the Harvest Moon. Once this was a time for major celebration and it still can be, even though we cheat a little. And why not? It is hard to raise a pig in Georgetown, harder still to butcher the poor thing under the neighbors' watchful eyes.
Our harvest party will have to take the form of a treasure hunt, with the treasure being food.
The ideal Harvest Hunt is held on a Sunday afternoon, time enough for a long country ride followed by an early dinner. As with all treasure hunts, the host must make the arrangements so that when people arrive they can be sent right off on the chase.
In this case, the host should make sure that there are sufficient cars among the guests so that no one is squished into a corner for a long, weary ride. Figure four people to each car, no more, and assign each car a rural destination.
A small town in the Shenandoah Valley or one on the Eastern Shore. There are Maryland mountains and the Amish country in nearby Pennsylvania. Choose one picturesque town for each car and give the occupants a map so they can decide on their routes.
On their way there and on their way back, they are to hunt for dinner. At this season, they are likely to find sausages and cheeses, cider, apples, pumpkins and squashes, cabbages, apple butters and an imposing array of jams and jellies, breads, pickles and chutneys and perhaps a dozen or so fresh eggs.
If you want to narrow the harvest, you can assign each car a course: appetizers for this one, main course for that, dessert for another.
Set an hour for everyone's return and when the harvest is home, sit down with all the foods and let everyone join together to plan the dinner.
Even the most meager return is sure to provide for pumpkin soup (peel the pumpkin, cut it in chunks and cook it. Add a bit of chicken broth to the chunks, puree them and add more broth and cream to achieve the proper consistency. Season to taste.)
If there is a great variety of vegetables, they can be cut up and cooked in broth to make a large vat of thick, rich soup, with broken bits of spaghetti added, or chunks of potatoes to give it ballast.
Someone is sure to have found a home-baked loaf and wedges of local cheese to serve with the soup.
If the hunters haven't provided a more exotic main course, there is always the egg. The host can make omelettes or scrambled eggs or a frittata, using the farm-stand eggs, and serving small bowls of the various preserves, both sweet and sour, on the side.
For dessert, what else but apple pie? The party giver should make several pie shells in advance and keep them in the refrigerator.
While some guests are making soups and setting out preserves, others can slice and spice and flour the apples, letting them sit a bit to exude their juices before heaping them into the shells and baking.
To drink with it there should be plenty of cider, hot and cold, plain and spiced and some of it spiked. The table will be decorated with the colors of fall, autumn leaves tracking a pattern down the center, ornamental squashes in baskets, dried Indian corn dangling from a chandelier.
Once the signs of abundance and a safe passage through winter, now they're merely the comforts of the season, a way to warm the evening and welcome the hunters home from the hills.