With Thanks: A Harvest Dinner

by Sarah Ann Noel

There were no rules, just a simple call to action in the vein of “waste not”: harvest the remnants of your garden, and share a meal with us.

It was the end of a hot, dry season, and yet our backyard garden had thrived. The peach tree was too heavy with fruit and we gathered more potatoes and okra than we knew how to use. There was leftover squash and onion and green beans and some tomatoes that had made it through the heat. The chickens were laying eggs a-plenty. We knew that if such was the case for us, so perhaps it was for others.

And so we sent out the invitation to our “harvest dinner”, offering our home to any who might gather to savor the last fruits of our gardens before the season came to a close.  It was exciting to see the accepted responses roll in, to anticipate the bounty and creativity that would grace the table. We had promises of breads and cold salads and hot vegetable dishes, all topped with homegrown spices. There was even a man who had just returned from a hunt and offered pheasant. A bend in the rules seemed acceptable since it was “of the earth” and collected by his hand.

We threw open the doors and windows and set records to play in the corner, the warm fall sun mixing with the coolness of breeze only hinting at winter. Each place was set with a burlap placemat, cut from scrap and reused, adorned with a handmade cloth napkin. The dishes, steam rising, were spread across the table and the buffet, even back into the kitchen along the countertops. We had all done well: the toiling over dirt had brought aching backs and tired arms but also an incredible, satisfying crop. Our farmer peers were from the neighborhood--some already friends, some new acquaintances; but the food had brought us all together. And we knew a new tradition had been established.

All the guests took their seats, balancing babies on knees and sharing mismatched chairs brought up to accommodate the large party around our average-sized table. We gave thanks for the food and then the dishes made their way in a circle. There was more than enough for everyone.

I slathered a slice of zucchini bread with fried green tomatoes that had been cooked straight from our own plant. The pheasant was topped with fruit and sat next to a bed of greens, which still tasted a little like dirt the way truly fresh lettuce does. A neighbor made bruschetta dressed in tomatoes that exploded in our mouths with flavor; the mozzarella wasn’t of her own making, but she had purchased it at the local farmer’s market.

We chuckled at our little cheats, but remarked at how well we’d lived up to the challenge: To make and partake of a meal that was all our own; to share in what we’d brought into the earth at our own capable hands; and to allow all to eat so that nothing went to waste. And as the growers and bakers and chefs came together, having made the feast according to these guidelines, a warmth grew in the midst of us. We’d provided for one another and come together in celebration. It was with thanks that we had tamed the ground, with thanks that we had succeeded, with thanks that we shared an evening with friends over food and a feeling of accomplishment.

Sarah Ann Noel is a Denver blogger and author writing mostly short stories and essays focusing on a young married life, faith, motherhood, lifestyle choices, and growth. She contributes regularly to PopSugar, And Then We Saved, and Fellow Magazine, and additional work has appeared in 303, Verily, Sisterhood, and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles. She is married to Trevor and writes from home in Denver to be with her daughters, Iris and Edith. Trevor and Sarah enjoy cooking, gardening, and eating about town, and often host dinner parties for friends and neighbors.