According to Judy


by Judy Schultz


The end-of-July appearance of the giant plastic snowman in the local Costco made it official: winter will come. Far too soon, it’ll be time to retire the barbecue.

As we entered the second half of the year, I realized that this is probably my favourite season…the feasting season. Suddenly it’s all about getting together, while there’s still time. As summer winds down, our collective celebrations heat up and we need to grab them while we can.

We gather around tables with friends, family or total strangers; in city stadiums, in farmer’s fields, in churches and community halls. The kick-starter this year was possibly the quirky, secret-destination dîner en blanc, with everyone wearing white clothes and waving white napkins (don’t ask). And it only gets better.

So is it the scent of fallen leaves, the crackle of autumn fires, the bundles of sunflowers or the earlier-falling darkness that promotes these joyful huddles?

As fall closes in, entire communities are suddenly moved to set up big, convivial tables. In Alberta, these long-table reunions happen on small-town main streets with farm-to-fork themes and local cooks showcasing local crops. If feasts in the fields aren’t your thing, there are beef dinners, pyrohy suppers, game dinners and our soon-to-be-celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, when everybody but the local turkey population has reason to celebrate.

The seasonal harvest of root vegetables and game birds makes me want to open a bottle of Pinot Noir and glug half of it into a huge, slow-simmering stew while contentedly swilling the other half.

Our big collective meals are more than snacky brown-baggers. They’re full-on celebrations in search of a crowd, and the older I get, the more important the gatherings become. Now is the time to break out the generous potluck dishes we remember from way back; food for all, enough to feed everybody who comes through the door.

We had such a gathering recently, in our kitchen, with 47 members of my family lining up to fill their plates. They sat wherever they could because, outside, the rain was bucketing down. The youngest guest at the feast was five weeks old; the eldest will be 103 in October. Two huge roasts, a lot of chicken and many bottles of wine later, the noise level was just below a screech.

Me? I was counting my blessings. Friends, family, enough to eat, so much to talk about, so much to be remembered. It was proof positive that gatherings like this among friends or family are timeless and not to be taken lightly.

As members of the human race, imperfect and troubled though we are, we need to spend more time gathered around tables, breaking bread together.

Find that old tureen and stir up a vat of soup, dig out the platter in case there’s a turkey, sharpen the carving knives. Check your weapons at the door. We have much to celebrate.

Judy loves to cook for a crowd.