September has Labor Day at summer’s end, the last big hoorah of vacation season. Right at the very end of October resides one of the best holidays of the year. You can disguise yourself and go looking for houses that give away free candy, and it’s not illegal. That’s hard to beat.
But November tries with Thanksgiving’s outstanding desserts to share with all the family. The love of my life always saves and freezes some blackberries for a cobbler on Thanksgiving that is too good to share. But she makes me share it with my ungrateful grandchildren. If they really loved me they’d let me eat the entire cobbler.
Christmas, my favorite time of the year, consumes every day of December. Searching and finding that “perfect” tree is a fun and challenging event that I always look forward to, plus there are all those parties! I love trips to the mall to watch nervous children talk to Santa and see people hustling in all directions. Decorations are on everything, and most folks are laughing and talking; they all seem to be in a good mood.
January has New Year’s Day and the best football games of the year. February gets the “love” day and great chocolate, March has green beer on Saint Patty’s day, and spring officially begins. Easter most often falls in April, which also gets April Fool’s Day. Mother’s Day and Memorial Day are in May, Father’s Day in June, followed by the Fourth of July.
Here we are all the way through the calendar at August, which has no special day. But that’s OK because August is so wonderful that it needs no Halloween candy or Thanksgiving. It doesn’t need fireworks or presents under a tree. August has so much going for it that it probably couldn’t handle a special day. It’s the best time to be at the beach because most folks are in such a hurry for a vacation that they just can’t wait until August so they rush down there in June or July. Plus many schools start in late August so families must go earlier in the summer which means smaller crowds in August. Our reward for waiting is plenty of room on the beach and no standing in line for an hour just to get a meal.
Most folks don’t know that there’s a great hunting season in August. With its warm weather and high humidity, the forest floors explode with colorful and peculiarly shaped mushrooms. So I go hunting because I enjoy sleuthing around and finding the many interesting and beautiful fungi. I also carry my trusty weapon, a Nikon Camera to record these trophies; many mushrooms are exotic and interesting photographic subjects.
In a good year, you can see mushrooms that are royal red, yellow, and several shades of orange. Plus there can be hundreds of white “toadstools,” and occasionally a brown or gray mushroom poking its head above the rotting leaves on the dirt floor. Some of the more beautiful mushrooms are no bigger than a dime, but this year I found one that was 10 inches across and nearly 15 inches high. One bright red variety looks as if it’s been coated with cooking oil; it appears to be totally wet and it grows in clusters.
I’m not smart enough to know which mushrooms are safe to eat, so I just look at and photograph them. But a friend of mine who lives near East Bend grows several varieties and shares his bounty with me. They are fresh and wonderful to eat as stir fry or in salads. Some folks use mushrooms as a meat substitute because of their texture.
Many other great gifts from nature wait until August, like figs. This old photographer is a fig fanatic and eats them most days. Eleven months of the year, I must eat dried figs, which are OK, but eating a juicy fresh off the bush fig in August is for me, as good as home-made apple pie. Fig preserves are great on toast and makes a delicious topping for vanilla or chocolate ice cream. And if you’ve never eaten a fig cake with its moist sweet bread and sticky yummy fruit you just cannot call yourself a person of discriminating taste.
In August most gardens are overflowing with okra; and if we follow the rules and eat our vegetables, what better way than with fried okra. Clearly fried okra is the food of knowledgeable and well-bred people.
Now, there is also another lesser known wild food that provides a taste vacation for folks who tire of the same old menus. That’s our wild persimmons which start becoming edible in late August. Persimmon pudding topped with a dusting of crushed cornflakes is a great dessert that’s only available for a short period of time.
DISCLAIMER: If you are a Yankee or attended any Ivy League University, or grew up in California, you’ll probably never understand fried okra or persimmon pudding, so do not waste time trying to “understand,” just eat! And, if you’re lucky, some southern “smarts” may stick to you.
As you can see, I love August, and I recently read that there was a group of folks who lived in NC about 300 years ago, that also loved this great month. These were our infamous pirates, like Black Beard, who prowled off the coast of North Carolina. However I believe they pronounced it “Arrr—gust.”
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court-appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.