08 October 2011


It's Thanksgiving Weekend. That's the time when we all sit around, eat turkey, and wrack our brains for things to be thankful for. Because, you know, the table groaning under all that food isn't giving us any hints. Hah.

Canadian Thanksgiving is always on the second weekend in October. In Germany, Erntedank (Harvest Thanks), is the first Sunday of that month. In the US, it's the fourth Thursday of November. Someone, I believe it was Barbara Kingsolver in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", pointed out that the difference is accounted for by the different lengths of the growing seasons in those places. In the Northern latitudes, harvest is pretty much done by October; in fact, the year before last we had our first hard freeze on Thanksgiving weekend. The grape harvest is the last thing that needs to be done in October; that year, we went on a winery tour the day after that freeze, and they were frantically scrambling to get in the grapes, because once you have a freeze, that's it for the ripening process. I don't know if they left any grapes on the vines for icewine, which is an amazing delicacy which also requires northerly climates to produce, but usually icewine doesn't happen until December or so.

So, anyway, in Canada, and in Northern Europe, early October is when you've picked most of what you're going to pick, have finished making your jams and jellies and pickles, and have bags of dried fruits hanging in the rafters in your attic - don't you? No, me neither, though I do have some in jars in the cupboard. But my Southern German grandmother used to have this big attic, over the barn which was attached to the house - she hung her laundry up there in the winter time - and I remember cloth bags suspended in that dusky space, being told they were full of dried fruit.

I don't remember ever having Schnitzbrot at her house, but I'm sure she made some sometime, as it's a traditional Swabian Christmas treat. It's literally bread, generally a heavy rye, loaded with dried fruit; sort of like American fruit cake except without the candied fruit and wrapped in bread dough instead of cake batter. One of my uncles was a preacher, and I once went with him on a visit to an old, old farmhouse in the countryside, and the ancient and wrinkled farmer woman gave me a piece of Schnitzbrot, thick, heavy and chewy-sweet, spread with fresh cool butter. Wonderful. In Bavaria, they call it Kletzenbrot, "Kletzen" being dried pears. On the first and third Thursday evening in Advent, young people dressed up as shepherds go from house to house, sing carols, and are given treats or money for it, rather like christmassy trick-or-treaters; in "the old days" they didn't get candy or money, but the Kletzen for their Kletzenbrot.

Somehow this year I'm much more aware of the wonders of the harvest, the blessings of food that's come straight from the land. Our season was rather short this year, as we had a long, cool winter and spring; it seems it barely began and it was over already. But in those few short months the land was bursting at the seams with fruit, with vegetables, with berries and peaches and plums and herbs and fruit flies (no, wait, we actually didn't have a lot of those this year; probably thanks to the cooler weather). A cornucopia of abundance.

Life, the Universe, and a Good Harvest. I don't think I have any problems finding things to be thankful for this year.


  1. very cool. I didn't realize Canada celebrated T'day so early. Informative as always, and here's to giving thanks~ :o)

  2. Yes, Canadian T'day is all about Thanks and Food and stuff, nothing about pilgrims and Indians and popcorn (the Canadian story of explorers and Natives involves cedar bark tea to cure scurvy, which isn't nearly as interesting and tradition-inspiring as popcorn).
    Happy Thanking, no matter when it happens!
    (I wonder if down-under people have a Thanksgiving Day in, say, May?)