Fall in Nova Scotia
It is the season that belongs to the trees in Nova Scotia – maple, birch, elm and oak are aglow with their changing foliage colors. Evolving over the course of two months, slowly at first, they transform from jade to pale gold as the weather remains mild and we are still able to enjoy the last of outdoor dinners. As the days grow cooler, the colors of the leaves intensify to shades of crimson and the daylight becomes an enchanting golden hue. The sky is a cloudless clear blue, bringing everything into sharp focus. Officially, fall starts when the sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward (on September 22nd or 23rd), known as the Autumnal Equinox, but for me fall hits like clockwork on the 1st September. It signals change. The days from then on grow shorter like they are on fast forward to reach winter; there is a chill in the air even though the days are sunny.
It is a busy season with getting back to real life, so it’s easy to miss it if you don’t savor each sweet day. Halifax’s population swells again as students return to one of the cities six universities and the kids go back to school. Harvest Day at my son’s school produces a flurry of activity with the making of apple pies, candy apples, concord grape jam, freshly baked bread and tomato salsa. The water on the Northwest Arm, that I pass by everyday to and from my house, picks up the colour of the sky and the surrounding trees - often it is an intense indigo but this morning the reflection of the leaves on the water turn it scarlet. There are still sail boats moored in the waterway and many still lined up in neat rows, in the berths of the Armdale Yacht Club, not yet packed up for the winter, in the hopes of a few more good sailing days.
Our cat Harry comes in again at night, preferring the warmth of indoors and our bed, as the nights start getting cold. The giant maple tree at our front door, tints everything in the house pink. The sumac trees all over the city show off their thick spires of crimson fruit, that we collect for a sour, addition to our fall cocktails and slow roasted lamb, their fern-like leaves have turned burned orange. The mystical Rowan tree, long honored by the Celts for its beauty and magical powers, display’s clumps of bright orange berries on the ends of its bare aromatic branches. We use one of the thin branches to whittle a Harry Potter wand. The burning bushes (euonymus alatus) all over Halifax stand in stark contrast to the faded summer foliage. I pick the last of the goldenrod, pale mauve fox glove and burning bush foliage for the Thanksgiving table. This time of giving thanks on the first Monday in October, has been easily incorporated into our lives and shared with friends, who have filled a void, when our families are miles away on another continent. Thanksgiving is a feast of deliciousness and mostly a standard repertoire developed over the years. Roasted turkey stuffed with my mother’s stuffing recipe, roasted lemon and garlic potatoes, rainbow carrots and brussel sprouts roasted in olive oil, cumin spiced butternut and for dessert there is always pumpkin pie and whipped cream and melktert (milk tart).
Our ornamental Crabapple trees have hundreds of small red berries that will last until the usual migrating flock of cedar waxwings arrive later in the year. They will spend a few days in late winter feasting on this succulent treasure. My fading summer deck is spruced up with yellow and burgundy chrysanthemums and perky, doily kale. Dinner this time of the year incorporates as many of the herbs still growing in small pots on the deck - rosemary, lemon thyme, basil, oregano are used up before they are zapped by the frost. The first trees we planted were apple, pear and cherry and they are finally producing fruit after seven years, but we have to be quick to beat the squirrels that usually get in before us.
Halifax has a few farmers markets, the largest and oldest continuously running market in North America, the Halifax Market, is housed in a state of the art eco building down on the waterfront. On a Saturday morning it is a hive of activity with farmers from all over the province selling their abundance of the harvest. Large wooden crates filled with apples make it difficult to walk down the narrow isles. I count twelve different varietals. The purple dragons and rainbow carrots showing off their orange, blonde, lilac and deep purple colours are bundled into my bag. Squashes and pumpkins however, steal the show. Long necked gnarly ones, stripped green and yellow ones, plump, bright, orange ones. Brussel sprouts on long, thick, green stems lie across the produce tables. There is a new mushroom forager selling his treasure of cepes, perfect for our Risotto dinner. I can smell the heady, earthy nuttiness of roasted chestnuts coming from somewhere, mingled with cinnamon and clove from a hot apple cider seller offering samples. I skip both and opt for a perfectly baked, wild blueberry pie from the French boulangerie and sit devouring it on the steps of the market watching a hipster playing the bagpipes.