Now that the growing season is over, gardeners have a new challenge: What to do with all those herbs, fruits and vegetables? Some people are carrying...

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Now that the growing season is over, gardeners have a new challenge: What to do with all those herbs, fruits and vegetables?

Some people are carrying on age-old harvest traditions by hosting community feasts or giving their produce to neighbors and food banks. Others are busy preserving and baking.

“I taught a few young girls a few weeks ago how to make a peach and berry cobbler,” says Patti Simon of Phinney Ridge. She took a friend’s 12-year-old daughter and two neighbor girls on a day of visiting u-pick farms and farmers markets.

Dessert is a popular harvest dish to share. Rich McDonald, coordinator of Seattle’s P-Patch community garden program, says “It’s always very special to make pumpkin pies from squashes in the fall and winter, then take them to potlucks. I use whatever I happen to come up with, usually a winter hubbard or a delicata.”

“I celebrate harvest with great eating,” says Ray Schutte of Magnolia. “Each new crop is featured in a menu for the family.” He’s a gardener at Interbay P-Patch, which is known for its weekly onsite gourmet potlucks.

“There’s something unique about the harvest,” says Schutte. “That first flush is really refreshing and unique, and you’re not going to get it again until next year, and you’re not going to get it out of a package in a store.”

Friends often get that fresh taste hand-delivered. “We’ve taken lettuce and peas to our pregnant neighbor, lavender bouquets to friends, and whenever we are invited to a friend’s home, we bring with us a fresh head of lettuce as a thank-you gift,” says Sara Egbert, a first-time gardener at Picardo P-Patch.

Harvest events

P-Patch Harvest Celebration: A harvest fair and potluck lunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 30 at Garfield Community Center, 2323 E. Cherry St.;

Harvest Celebration Farm Tour: Featuring farms throughout King County, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Watch local chefs perform cooking demonstrations, buy fresh produce and pumpkins, talk to farmers. For locations and other details call Andrea Meyer at 206-205-3206;

Community-building is also done by sharing excess garden bounty with neighbors.

“I put my pears in a basket out in front of my house to share with passers-by,” says Sylvia Kantor, a Ballard resident and educator with WSU’s King County Cooperative Extension. When the pears start to drop off her large, prolific tree, she goes into share mode. “I like to pick them all at once, refrigerate as many as I can, give away as many as I can, and share some with a food bank as well.”

She also signed up with the new “gleaning” project begun by Seattle Tilth and the Fremont Public Association, which dispatches volunteers to gather fruit from willing participants and deliver it to food banks.

Save it for later

Fresh garden flavors are brought to the winter table through preservation, says Julie Wuesthoff, a PCC Cooks instructor and leader in the local slow-food movement. “This is the time to capture the harvest.”

She freezes pesto, combining a variety of fresh herbs with different local nuts. Beyond basil, she suggests trying lemon verbena, parsley, arugula or Italian oregano. Instead of pine nuts, try locally grown filberts.

Wuesthoff suggests preserving the many local fruit varieties for holiday treats. Most local berries freeze well. “Berries are frozen whole on trays, then gathered into Ziploc bags,” she explains. To use, “fold them into cobblers or crisps or muffins. It’s a great taste of summer in the dead of winter.”

Try the same freezing technique with tomatoes for use in winter sauces and soups. “When you defrost them in a strainer in the refrigerator, they give off pure tomato water that’s almost like a stock” and the flavor can’t be beat.

Food preservation has largely disappeared from our lives, says Wuesthoff, who explains that the slow-food movement seeks to bring back such lost connections. “Canning and preserving is a good way to kind of slow down and feel the harvest. To touch the food and preserve it and handle it and stock it away is in our genetic makeup.”

“Ideally,” she says, “you should date your preserving, so it kind of holds memories and a way to capture that moment of the season.”

Get down on the farm

For professional growers, the connection is even more elemental. “As an agricultural-based person, it means we’re reaping the rewards of our efforts,” says EagleSong, director of RavenCroft Garden in Monroe, which produces botanical products from herbs. “About harvest time, I’m grateful that we’re almost finished. There’s a rest that’s inherent in that celebration.”

At this time of year, even when the work is at its peak, farmers are celebrating the coming rest with their workers and their customers. Community Supported Agriculture farms are holding dinners for their members, and some farms offer festivals that include hay rides, tours and pumpkin-picking.

On Oct. 7, people around Western Washington will show their appreciation for local farming by attending the Harvest Celebration Farm Tour, sponsored annually by WSU Cooperative Extension. “We’re celebrating the fact that we still have local farming in our area,” explains Kantor. “It’s a struggle in the context of sprawl, the rising cost of land and a global food system.”

This year’s tour will feature restaurant chefs in cooking demonstrations and one farm will have a corn maze. The Neely Mansion outside Auburn will showcase heritage foods and Rockridge Orchards and Bamboo Groves in Enumclaw will offer wine tasting, a first for the eight-year-old event.

Whether in the kitchen or in the fields, now is the perfect time for a harvest-based thanksgiving.

Bill Thorness is a freelance garden writer in Seattle: