One leaf on the maple tree turned bright orange. The apples on our trees now droop with bounty. The local drive-in went to weekend-only hours and starts movies around 8:00 pm because that’s when it gets dark now here in Wisconsin. Deep sigh. Yes, those bittersweet signs of fall are in the air.
My advice on how to deal with this transition? Throw a potluck party celebrating the abundance of summer while you still can. Call it post-gardening season therapy. There’s nothing more cathartic than feasting with friends, savoring and reminiscing about the bounty of this year’s harvest –- while undoubtedly starting to plot for next year’s growing season.
Here’s a mini-cornucopia of ideas to get you started. For more detail, check out my piece in Hobby Farm Home magazine: The Community Table: Celebrate your local bounty with a potluck meal of regional fare.
1. Focus on Fresh Bounty
Tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, salad and spinach greens. You could probably rattle off the top of your head the key ingredients that both celebrate summer’s bounty and are probably piling up on your kitchen counter right now. These are the flavors to showcase, focusing on the simple recipes that showcase fresh produce in ways you just can’t do come December. The Inn Serendipity Tomato Crouton Casserole (recipe below) often pops up on our breakfast menu, but also makes an easy potluck side dish featuring fresh tomatoes.
2. Offer a Challenge
If your friends love a culinary contest, offer a prize for whoever brings the dish with the most local ingredients. Draw inspiration from the “Cornucopia Challenge” in the culinary contests at our Wisconsin State Fair (here’s my third-prize winning entry, “Wisconsin Beer & Cheese Soup,”) and see if someone can come up with a dish with twelve local flavors.
3. Think Beyond Food
Celebrate all things local at your gathering, stretching beyond the plate. Our local friends, the Carper Family, recently hosted their bi-annual barn party on their farm. In addition to food, this gathering showcased local musical talent, offering a stage and “open mic” setting for anyone to share their “cultural fare.”
Tomato Crouton Casserole
8 medium tomatoes cut into wedges
2-3 cups prepared croutons
½ c. plus 2 T. butter, melted
1 t. salt
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried thyme
¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese
* Arrange tomatoes in a greased 9-in. x13-in. baking dish.
* Top with bread croutons.
* Combine butter, salt, basil and thyme. Drizzle over bread and tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese.
* Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until tomatoes are tender.
Photo credit: John Ivanko