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Shine on
September 26, 2007

Stroll outside this evening just after 7 o'clock to watch the sun set; then look to the east and watch the moon rise-huge, glowing and golden-the Harvest Moon. It well may be you will want the hum that old "shine on" vaudeville tune and cuddle on the porch. Romantic. It's a good night for a party.

That moon will indeed shine on for just about all night. Why, you might (or might not) ask, is that? There are lots of good reasons.

The scientists at NASA and National Geographic can give you the exact scientific details. (Check out their Web sites if you want to know more.)

The Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, usually in September but occasionally in early October. Autumn began for us early Sunday morning, and tonight is our Harvest Moon.

Full moons always rise shortly after sunset, usually a little less than an hour, but the Harvest Moon is an early bird almost exactly as old Sol says good night. The night never gets truly dark, because this full moon is so big and bright.

It's called moon illusion. Because the autumn moon is low in the sky, we look at it through a thicker atmosphere, which makes it redder, more golden. Check out those Web sites for a full explanation, because I prefer the legends.

'Tis said there is a reason the Harvest Moon shines bright and long. Indeed, that's why we call it the Harvest Moon.

In times past, the story went that the man in the moon had special feeling for farmers. He knew how hard they worked to get the harvest in on time, and so just like the farmers, he came early, worked hard and stayed late, giving the fellows light to work in their fields into the night.

Harvest time is certainly here in Southwest Georgia, and what did I do? I checked with Joel Hudgins, a County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, about what's keeping farmers hereabout busy on these bright nights.

Our harvest
He gave me the full rundown on Decatur County crops.

Our biggest crops are (no surprise) cotton and peanuts. Haven't you been behind a convoy of peanut wagons on some of our less traveled roads?

Twenty years ago, not a single cotton blossom bloomed in a Decatur County field. Things have changed!

Other important crops are field corn, tomatoes and sweet corn. I asked about pecans-nothing as lovely as a well-tended pecan grove! There are some, but they are not a major crop.

And we're a diverse county-Joel allowed that there are even a few acres of chestnuts under cultivation. (Watch for the upcoming Post-Searchlight edition of "Down on the Farm" for more about this.)

Joel gave me another tip. If I wanted to experience harvesting myself, I should head out Old Whigham Road some Friday evening or Saturday morning and find the G.W. Long Farm, where I could go out in the field and do some pea, bean and sweet potato harvesting myself.

Then he digressed, "Ahhhhh, sweet potato pie!"

Here's one for Joel. You can make it using pumpkin just as well.

  
Harvest moon sweet potato pie
1 9-inch deep-dish unbaked pastry shell
2½ cup sweet potatoes, fresh baked or canned
¾ cup brown sugar firmly packed
1/3 cup whipping cream
3 eggs
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
(or substitute 2 or 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spices)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Puree the sweet potatoes until very smooth, and then add the sugar, cream, eggs and spices, blending in well.

Pour the filling into the unbaked shell. Bake until the filling is set, about 50 or 60 minutes, depending on your oven. Let the pie cool at least 30 minutes. Whip the remainder of the cream and sweeten it to taste to use as a topping.

  

Nothing but freshly-dug sweet potatoes in my pie, I told myself. So, early on a recent Saturday morning, I was out in the field cutting enough freshly turned sweet potatoes to fill a huge bucket. Next time I won't wear sandals! I wasn't the only one thinking about harvest. Cars clogged the lane to the sweet potato field, and happy voices sounded from the bean and pea patches.

While we paid for our 'taters at the farm entrance, I struck up a conversation with owner Janice Long. She told me a little more about the farm. Across the summer they grow some 20 varieties of vegetables for folks to come and self-harvest, plus a field full of flowers-the zinnias were glorious. It's not just Decatur County folks doing the harvesting.

"They come from all over," she told me. They'd had a fellow from Oklahoma just the day before. Then, she recounted a lively encounter between a Swiss woman and a swarm of Decatur County gnats.

She was delighted when I told her I was preparing for the Harvest Moon. Just days before she'd read a wonderful story about this moon and a possum party to the second-grade class she teaches over in Miller County.

As soon as we got home, I stashed the sweet potatoes (except for the two I baked and served for dinner with lots of butter). Janice told me to leave the dirt on the potatoes and put them away. They don't need to be refrigerated and they'll keep a long, long time. She still has some from last year.

I didn't stay home long though. As soon as I'd rinsed off my feet and my sandals, I headed out for the Gilbert Gragg Library and found what I was looking for-Possum's Harvest Moon, by Anne Hunter. It is a great story. Possum wants to have a party to enjoy the enchanting moon, but no one will come. Mice are busy gathering seeds for the winter; all the crickets are worn out from singing all summer; Raccoon is busy catching a few more fish to fatten himself up for the long winter. Poor old Possum, wearing a party hat, sits alone watching the moon.

But wait! Harvest Moon magic! Here come the mice, the crickets bring the katydids and the Raccoon rousts out his friend, Rabbit. Possum's party lasts long into the bright full moon night.

I've returned this delightful book. If you want to share the Harvest Moon with a youngster you love, run on down and get it. Maybe you'll enjoy some sweet potato pie as you watch the moon shine on.

Every moon has a special name. Next month we'll have the Hunter's Moon. It's almost as big and bright as the Harvest Moon, and you can guess the legend behind that. In November, the farmers get to enjoy this glistening moon from the porch while it's the hunters who are out all night trekking their prey.

In honor of the Hunter's Moon, I'm hunting for some good game recipes-deer, wild turkey, quail-but after that wonderful story, no possum or raccoon, please.

Post-script: Don't go running out to the Longs quite yet. With autumn, they've finished harvesting for this year. They'll reopen on Mother's Day, 2008. I'll let you know and maybe pay a longer visit-tomato, cantaloupe, eggplant-oh my!


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network