November, the month so many people love to hate (here in the North), stayed true to form and began with a cold rain. The romance of autumn wears off as bright colored leaves, stripped from trees by November winds, turn brown underfoot, and begin the process of decay. What remains in gardens looks sad…squash and beans that didn’t quite mature while the weather was more favorable, begin to rot on their vines in the cold and wetness.
In the Northwest November is traditionally one of the rainiest months. In the 70s, while living in Oregon, I remember a November when all 30 days had significant, measurable rainfall. It was a dark month! There have been equally wet Novembers since, the last record breaker was 2006 with 11.6 inches of rain by November 15th.
Quotes from poets and writers about November seem mostly to be about darkness, death, cold, rain and snow. December, though days are shorter, is welcomed because there are reasons to celebrate and eat rich foods! A month filled with holidays of light, December brings the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, after which it’s all up hill to the light of spring – sort of. Personally, I find January the dreariest of months.
I feel it is time to defend November. After all it’s ‘my’ month. Female readers of the baby boom generation may remember little china angels one would get for their birth month. My ‘November angel’, found tucked in a box in the attic, has symbols of abundance and a very sweet face. Not an angel of darkness at all!
Perusing my photo library, I find stunning photos over the years of November days, low winter sun providing dramatic lighting for beautiful sky shots. Definitely a month of transition. Many photos show trees still in vivid color, taking their time to let go of leaves, yet there are also many late November snow scenes. We have a peach tree that stays green until November, then turns gold. High bush cranberry bushes are in their peak of pale yellow and red coloration. And Osier Dogwoods, though windblown, are festive with leaves of red, maroon, and shades of green.
And did you know November is Sweet Potatoes Awareness Month? (Not to be confused with Sweet Potato Month in February, I could find no explanation for why sweet potatoes have two months). If there is a vegetable that needs an awareness month it is the sweet potato. Most stores, and many people, call orange sweet potatoes yams and lots of folks think they are a potato, which they aren’t. (Here’s some info to clear up any confusion)
My latest quickie soup is Sweet Potato, leek & apple soup. My first batch had 2 or 3 medium orange sweet potatoes, a parsnip, the upper green part of a leek and a chopped apple. After everything is cooked soft (add the apple half way through) blend the whole batch into a thick creamy soup. Variations included a yellow sweet potato in place of the parsnip; or add cashews for richness and additional thickness. In today’s batch, half of a chopped onion and pre-cooked brown rice gave it a little more zing and substance. I season it primarily with my homemade curry powder and/or churna mix, any cumin rich blend seems compatible with sweet potatoes and helps the tummy to digest this ‘heavy’ food.
“…in November…the season that follows the hour of the dead, the crowning and majestic hours of autumn, I go to visit the chrysanthemums …They are indeed, the most universal, the most diverse of flowers.”
I love reading the above quote from Belgium poet Maurice Maeterlinck, an ode to November’s flower, which fills florist shops and grocery stores and survive in early winter gardens. As a young person I felt a little cheated having ‘my’ birth month flower be something I didn’t then consider beautiful, (I did love the giant, yellow, pompom mums I wore to homecoming games.) My favorites were among the flowers of spring and summer. But I grew to love chrysanthemums and look forward to seeing the variety of colors and shapes available this time of year. The rest of the year there are the ubiquitous daisy-like chrysanthemums, but the rainbow of golds, shades of purples, and light and dark bronzes, makes one appreciate why the chrysanthemum is Japan’s national flower, which they celebrate with a Festival of Happiness!
What isn’t there to love about a month that gives you a great excuse to make a pot of soup, buy some flowers, and curl up with a good book while the wind blows and the rain falls. But be ready to venture out when the skies clear. November is a month where things are swept clean, and you really can see the forest through the trees. It’s big holiday lasts only one day, and it’s purpose is to celebrate gratitude!