When I was a kid I loved our school harvest festival. We would all be asked to bring in some food for the celebration and this was all gathered together in the school hall along with some traditional corn dollies. There would be piles of stuff ranging from tins and packets to freshly baked cakes and bread and fresh fruit and vegetables. Come the celebration we would all troop into the hall and sing appropriate hymns about seed sowing and gathering crops and all feel jolly good about it. Then the next day a few of the more sensible children (which always included me, of course) would walk around the local area delivering boxes of this food to the elderly and needy.
I'm sure this "traditional" harvest festival that I remember was far removed from how they first started when it was all about giving thanks to God for the crops they had grown in order to please God and ensure that He would provide the appropriate weather to allow it all to happen again the next year. But having attended my daughter's harvest festival this week it seems we have all moved a little further away from what it is all about.
I'm not a religious person and I know that whether crops grow or not isn't decided by some divine entity but I am still glad that my daughter's school hold their festival in the church across the road. We were asked to donate food but now it all has to be tins and dried foods that can be stored for months if necessary. These are then all given to the Food Bank who distribute the food to identified needy families in the area. So gone are the days when the gathered food is stacked at the front of the festival for all to see and gone are the days when beautiful loaves of bread and fresh fruit and vegetables were piled high for everyone to admire. It was certainly a sight that it felt appropriate to rejoice about.
At this time of year I can come off the allotment with a wheelbarrow loaded up with vegetables and for a moment I feel like bursting into song about seed sowing and gathering crops! In a culture where we can buy any fruit or vegetable at any time of year I think the whole concept of a "harvest" has somehow been lost. Personally I would love to see a room somewhere stacked with pumpkins, marrows, potatoes, apples, pears, onions, tomatoes, beans, broccoli, carrots, cabbages and adorned with corn dollies. Yes, I think the Food Bank are doing a fantastic job and the tinned, dried food is a very practical solution but let's rejoice in all things fresh and seasonal, homegrown, homemade and communal. Let's for once appreciate that we aren't facing starvation and uncertainty and not take this for granted. Let's gather together our seasonal produce and be proud and thankful for it!
Harvest Fruit Cake
2oz (55g) shelled hazelnuts
8oz (225g) unsalted butter
8oz (225g) light muscovado sugar
8oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
6oz (175g) courgette or marrow
9oz (250g) mixed dried fruit
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon demerara sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4 and grease or line a 20cm round cake tin. Place 1 oz of the hazelnuts in a food processor with a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of flour and blitz until the nuts are finely ground. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder and process until a smooth batter forms. Remove the blade and grate in the courgette or marrow and the apple then add the dried fruit. Stir thoroughly and spoon the mix into the cake tin. Coarsely chop the remaining hazelnuts and mix these with the cinnamon and demerara sugar. Sprinkle this mixture onto the top of the cake. Bake for 45 minutes then cover with foil and continue to bake for a further 25-30 minutes. Test with a skewer. Cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.