Harvest Home

Our first Grape Jam from our vine.

Our first Grape Jam from our vine.

My hometown, Griggstown, New Jersey on August 22, celebrated the 127th Harvest Home.  I haven’t been there for all of them, but some mornings it seems so.

Harvest Home was put on by the Dutch Reformed Church on Canal Road and that church was there from the 1840’s.  The whole state, at least the lower middle portion where we lived, was settled in the 1660’s by the Dutch, the English and much later the Norweigans.  The names I grew up with were Staats, Van Doren, Wyckoff,  Cortelyou, Campbell, Beekman, VanderVeer, Terhunes,  Van Nostrand, Veghte, etc. Some of my childhood friends are still  there:  David Olsen and his Irish wife, Pat, Jerry Steele and others. Some have died too young, like Doug Craig, but others remain and don’t stray too far from the farmlands which now have MacMansions on them.

One man, Mr. Herbert Brush, lived in the “Manse” next to the church.  Mr. Brush was influential in my younger years, as he taught me chess and his house was a wonder of books, from floor to ceiling in two stories.  He was a fixture in his old Buick, as he made the rounds to visit the housewives during the week, and we loved to see him because he carried old and stale hard candies in his coat pockets.  We didn’t care, it was a treat back then for country kids.  Mr. Brush gave me books, mostly art books, and mostly (quel dommage…) in French.  He was earlyon a schoolteacher I believe, but he also was a fine draftsman.  I have a pix of him in a smart carriage with a beautiful black horse as he went ‘acourting’ with the young teacher who became his wife.  Mr. Herbert Brush died in 1976 at the age of 93.  I knew he was dying because I was winning our chess games.  That never happened before.  He was buried in the graveyard next to the Manse, in fact he could have spit out his window onto his grave.

The Madsens, Olsens, Tornquists, and us, the Kohuts, were latecomers, and the first were Norweigans. We were Hungarian on my father’s side,  but my mother was a Wyckoff early on.  So we belonged…sort of.

Harvest Home was an early celebration of the harvest and Griggstown and the surrounding environs were farming country.  New Jersey is, after all, the “Garden State”.  But the harvest wasn’t in yet, and wouldn’t be until late September or October.

Harvest Home is generally celebrated around September 25.  It’s tied to the autumnal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator on its apparent journey southward, and we have a day and night that is of equal duration.  Up until Harvest Home, the daylight has been greater than the hours from dusk to dawn.  But from then on, the reverse is true.

Mythically, this is the day of the year when the God of Light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the God of Darkness. Mythically speaking, it is the only day of the year when Llew (Light) is vulnerable and possible of defeat.  Llew now stands on the Balance (Libra/autumnal equinox) with one foot on the Cauldron (Cancer/ summer soltice) and his other foot on the Goat (Capricorn/winter solstice).  Thus he is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, (the Welsh Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio)

Two things now likely occur in this myth.  Having defeated Llew, Goronwy (Darkness) now takes over Llew’s functions, both as lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess, and as king of our own world.  Goronwy now is the Horned King, who sits on Llew’s throne and begins his rule, but his formal coronation will not be for another 6 weeks, Halloween, or Samhain, when he becomes the Winter Lord, or Dark King, Lord of Misrule.

(with thanks to Mike Nichol’s articles at “The Witches Sabbats”)

Llew’s sacrificial death at Harvest Home also identifies him with John Barleycorn, spirit of the fields.  Corn dolls were woven from the last sheaves of corn harvested and hid in a house to be used symbolically in the planting of seed at the first of the spring  planting.

There is also that questionable “Wicker Man” made infamous by the movie of the same name.  Aside from that, farmers did collect the stalks of the corn and bundled them up and set them aflame during the harvests.  They were beacons at this night of festival, and probably had more significance than just beacons.

I think all this pagan symbolism was too much for the staid Dutch Reformed Christians, so they pushed up the festival to late August, fully a month from the usual fete. Possibly to  sanitize this festival and hopefully obscure the pagan roots. But there was a frisson, an excitement every year, especially when we rolled out of the Church Hall, our bellies filled with good Dutch and Norweigan cooking, and eyed the young men and women, mostly teens and younger, most of whom we knew, but a hayride under the rising moon is still a magical time at any age.  Many of our neighbors, the ‘elders’, met at the yearly Harvest Home and got married.

I now live, and have for almost 40 years, in urban Atlanta….3 miles from downtown.  To call this urban is a bit of a misnomer, because we live in a little area that has roots back before 1858.  Sherman didn’t get everything.  But it is mostly urban people and now, the new urban pioneers.  Most of us, the long settled people of Capitol View and Sylvan Hills, and Capitol View Manor, have gardens, and though we don’t have an actual Harvest Home, we do have an exchange of the bounty of our gardens or our labors.

We have a garden full of tomatoes this year, a wanky grape vine, plum/apple/peach trees, a watermelon vine that has three watermelons growing up into the patio, and a strange squash growing over the tomato cages:  it looks like a large turban, up four feet in the air.  Was supposed to be a crooked neck squash.  Our neighbors have lots of tomatoes and okra, squash, and we have a casual exchange each fall:  our hen’s eggs, our tomatoes, and our kudzu jelly  in exchange:  venison steaks, bread puddings, more tomatoes, chow chow and chutneys.  Some times oranges from the State Farmer’s Market well south of us, but it’s all welcome.  Our shelves are full of canned jellies, applesauce and chow chow;  we just have to remember to eat them, to rotate their existence.

And….I read very recently that home gardeners were leading in keeping the heirloom seeds for tomatoes and other plants going:  so many species have disappeared because only a few ‘engineered’ crops have been pushed by the big nurseries.  We have a mission here, us home gardeners.

Yesterday we harvested our first grapes:  tiny, perfect bunches, looking like black bbs.  Not the plump, green seedless Thompson Seedless we were told we would get from that vine.  But it has been 4 years at least since we planted  that ‘gift’ vine from some new neighbors.  I made my first homegrown grape jelly and it was so thick and dark I had to keep diluting with water.  I got 6 good jars of it, and this morning tasted it for the first time.  It was rich and not that it was so sweet, but it had something of the ‘mystical’ in it.  It was a grape jam to savor, and that it came from our vine and was the first, well, it deserved honor.

In the rhythm of the year, Harvest Home marks a time of rest after hard work.  The crops are gathered in, and winter is still far away.  We have a frog that croaks loudly in our small goldfish pond under the full moon.  The birds are just starting to think of migration, and the Sandhill cranes can be seen during the brittle light of a fall day circling around the ether, honking and looking like their GPS isn’t working.  We are starting to see the geese,  those Canadian geese who foul our lawns, those “Hounds of Annwn”  who bay at the moon, that Harvest Moon, or Corn Moon, silhouetted against it like so many Witches on their brooms.

Lady Nyo


Gather in, gather in,
The Horn of Plenty manifest
From seed to ripened fruit
The Corn Moon’s cooling gaze
Looks down on passing season.

Gathered in, gathered in
The toil is done,
The grains are in
The bounty of the Earth
Once more links
Our presence to the Infinite.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2009

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10 Responses to “Harvest Home”

  1. Berowne Says:

    Those must be some dark grapes, to judge from the jam you made. Is that Cuchulainn, or Pwyll Prince of Dyfed, guarding them? Just wondering…

    I like the idea of an outbreak of paganism in central New Jersey; talk about your old-time religion. I blame Princeton.

    A fine poem. One question: is “presence” in the last line meant to be “present”? Given the references to the passage of time above, that would seem more consistent with the imagery.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    “I blame Princeton”…..ROTF!

    IF you only knew, Berowne….I blame Princeton for the taxes, which drove out the farmers and the carpenters and the tradesmen of the area. Now, only Princeton profs and pilots and lawyers can afford the terrain.

    Yep, some dark and serious grapes….maybe more ‘dark’ than I knew….I’ve never had such an ‘intense’ jam…..next year, with a better knowledge of grapes and vines, perhaps the harvest will be better….or plumper grapes…but what a shock since they were supposed to be “Thompson Green Seedless”…nothing like that at all..must have been a wine grape of some variety….I’ll research.

    As to the elf…well….I have a great friend of years standing, Steve, who stands about 6’5” and is Swedish. We call him “The Swedish Axe Murderer” in front of his face, hoping that his good nature holds out….(thinking of some of Bergman’s wanky films…).LOL~ He has ‘gifted’ me with a couple of his yard elfs…gnomes…..he has hundreds on his porch and lawn…funny, the local riffraff give his property a wide berth. A couple of years ago, I came to my gate and there was a 2 foot gnome with a card around his neck: ” “Take me in. I will be good.”

    Funny about this gnome, though…he was pulling a cork out of a bottle with an evil grin on his face….the way this was cast, it looked like he was pulling something else. He found a home in the front garden facing the public through the wrought iron.

    Thanks for your comments on that poem….I wrote it so early this am….3am if I remember…so I will look again at it.

    You are probably right.

    Jane….looked at it…and I think it could be either way…..though your ‘take’ gives a bit of a different meaning. Thanks….


  3. Margie Says:

    Wonderful poem, fabulous memories of “our neck” of NJ, and gorgeous jam! Very entertaining entry, for sure.

    I must be just enough north of you that my grapes are not yet purple. We have concord grapes (one measly vine) and the grapes are big and plump, but they are still green. I’m thinking I’ll be making jam by the end of next week! I keep checking on our random watermelon and I think that’s got about a week to go as well. I’m thinking watermelon rind pickles!


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Oh! You lucky girl!!!

    The grapes will change color…..but that they are big and plump!!!! Mine were like black bbs! I think they MIGHT be called “Black Cornith”, it’s a champagne vine, variety….but I don’t really know. They certainly aren’t table grapes.

    I did buy two more Thompson grapes, but they will take another 5 years….sigh.

    Make that jam. This is the only solution for my black bbs….but that you have a table grape is wonderful! I love grapes, my favorite food group….

    As to the watermelon….mine are tiny, and I mean tiny and will never make it past frost. Do you have a recipe for watermelon rind pickles? Send it if you do…I’ve never made them, but would go out and spend 5 clams for a watermelon just to try…

    That ‘one measly vine’ means that you have done it right….pruned it. I think that what happened here is we didn’t know how to prune, or when, so the sucker just went overboard. I am now learning about pruning and this next year…it’s not going to do what it did this year. I am hoping that these were some other variety…bigger and perhaps eatable from the vine, and we just didn’t do right by it.

    Thanks, Margie, for reading and remembering our NJ.

    And for liking that short poem….wrote it at 3am and went back to sleep. It woke me up for it’s ‘birth’ and then nothing more came of it….LOL!…such is the “muse”.



  5. Margie Says:

    The recipe is in my mailbox waiting to be picked up tomorrow. I find if I don’t do things immediately, I tend to forget about them for weeks. Roger’s nephew requested a photo about two months ago. I did print it, but never mailed it. Bad me! I better do that today as well!


  6. ladynyo Says:

    I have that same problem…procrastination.

    And thanks….watermelon pickles sounds …..cooling…



  7. Berowne Says:

    I wonder, if you have a county agriculture agent they might be able to identify those grapes for you. The wine grapes I see up in the Napa and Sonoma valleys here tend to be larger than BB’s, though smaller than table grapes.

    Your garden gnome sounds like a direct descendant of the Roman god Priapus, whose statue was, er, erected in yards to deter trespassers. The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priapus (not work-safe) has some illustrations, and a description: “He was represented in a variety of ways, most commonly as a misshapen gnome-like figure with an enormous” – well, you will have to read the article to find out the rest.


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Lordy! Those frescos were explicit.

    Yes, well, I think you are right. The dear boy was pulling out a cork from the bottle, but the sculpture is so ambiguous in display, he could be doing another thing.

    The little gnome in the pix is holding a broken bowl. It’s my favorite and has migrated into the kitchen. It’s not more than 9 inches tall and the cats pee on him, so there is always a green ring (the counters are copper) to scrub around him. Ring around the gnome.

    The grapes: Ah god….what a mess. I am wondering if they are Concords? And because we didn’t prune them at all….they just expended themselves and grew as bbs?? Obviously they will be purple grapes of some variety, and I do think they will be wine grapes….no matter of pruning will make them table sized. Or green. As they were supposed to be by label.

    But the jam is excellent with a rich bouquet and the seeds make a nice crunchiness.

    Thank you, Berowne, for the websites….we strive here to be educational….and I will check with the county extension agent. A good suggestion.



  9. shia1 Says:

    what a great post and picture. I really wanted to reach out and touch one of those jars of jelly. It is really homey and warm.

    It is nice to hear someone’s memories and I smiled as I read it. It made me recall some of my own.

    I bet the grapes are for wine making. For some reason I think they could be.



  10. ladynyo Says:

    Dear shia,

    You brought a smile to my face….for a number of reasons.

    When we are able to touch someone with our writing, when we evoke their own memories, that means we have succeeded in some part of our work. Thank you.

    To me, that is half the purpose of writing…to evoke responses in others, to examine their own lives, for me to do the same, and that can be the beauty of this particularly wanky form of communication. I am just as interested in those experiences that fill and color my own that aren’t my own….You and others telling me these things makes the ‘connectedness’ we all yearn for. That is, those of us who do care to do so. Some don’t, as you and I well know.

    You have a blog, write your memories down…I will read them.

    Yup, I think you are right: the grapes have to be for wine making. We will see with some severe pruning this February what this does and if the grapes get bigger.

    I have these vines that I will ….again….attempt to make into a basket. I have failed miserably at this before, but hope springs eternal….plus I hate to just compost these lovely vines….they have character!



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