The news this week is as bad or worse than every other week. I don't feel like writing about it so I'm going to look at how lucky we are to live where we do. Pennsylvania is a lovely place made up of farms, cities, and forests. Having lived for almost three decades in California, I really appreciate what Pennsylvania has to offer. I especially like the concept of four seasons. In California they also claim to have four seasons: hot, cold, wet and dry. In reality it is mostly hot and dry.

Here in Pennsylvania, summer is over and fall has arrived. For the last two weeks it has rained most days. Now the sun is shining and the cool fall nights are here. Some people may miss summer. To me, fall is a lovely time of year. I no longer need my air conditioner as I can open the windows at night and feel the cool autumn air. I turned on my fireplace the other day to take the chill off the house. The furnace has been inspected and is ready for the winter. Just a few more chores around the house and we will be prepared. Given the amount of rain we've had in the last few weeks, we could have some large snowfalls this winter. Time to prepare the snow blower and stock up on heart-warming foods and apple cider!

The crops are mostly in as the growing season is coming to a close. We only have a few cabbages and red onions left in the garden to harvest. It was a fantastic year for tomatoes that we canned for use as spaghetti sauce and condiments throughout the winter. I've already used some of the sauce and was quite pleased with the results. The peaches and cherries that I bought at the farmers market and canned are a delight. The pears from our own tree were canned and are quite tasty. This surprised me as I found all of the recipes on the Internet. I wish I had my grandmother's recipes. I never thought when I was standing beside her in the kitchen, barely able to reach the counter top, that I would be canning my own food with my wife.

My grandmother would spend late summer and early fall over the stove filling mason jars with food for the winter. Her recipes were passed from mother to daughter for over 150 years. When she died, they were lost forever, as they were not written down. Her daughters had no interest in preserving food. After all, with supermarkets chock full of goodies, canning is just too much work. My wife and I enjoy doing it and love the taste of the food we make. Now that the canning is done, it is time to rest and enjoy the fall.

The leaves on the trees are changing, creating a brilliant tapestry of color. I love Saturdays in the fall. My perfect day starts with my wife making me a breakfast of sugar-cured bacon from a local butcher, eggs, toast with butter and my own homemade strawberry jam. After breakfast, boarding the Reading and Blue Mountain train for the journey to Jim Thorpe, which only runs in October, for a relaxing day trip! I love taking this train through the hills and valleys, all decked out in their fall splendor. The best part of the trip is having lunch in Jim Thorpe. My favorite place is Crave in the Albright Mansion. They celebrate Oktoberfest Saturday afternoons in October with German sausages, beer and Bavarian Beer Hall music. After lunch, it is back to the train for the return trip to Port Clinton. To complete the day, a big bowl of home made stew that simmered all day in the crock-pot and some homemade bread with country butter. The finishing touch on my perfect day is sitting in front of the fireplace with my wife until it is time for bed. Fall in Pennsylvania is the second best time of the year. Only Christmas is better.

The fall is the best time to go to the farmers markets. On Thursdays, the Shillington farmers market is open. I love buying a freshly made strawberry rhubarb pie from the Amish bakery. I don't know how they do it but this bakery makes pies just like the ones my grandmother made. She used lard to make the pastry. I wonder if the Amish use lard as well? For ice cream and bacon, I go to the Fairgrounds Farmers Market near Reading. The dairy has great ice cream that is made with real cream! Two scoops of ice cream on the pie and I am in heaven. The bacon I buy there is nice and lean, sugar cured, and properly smoked. My favorite place for vegetables this time a year is the Schuylkill Haven Farmers Market. I try to go towards the end of the day on Sunday to get the best value. By 2 p.m., the farmers discount the vegetables and baskets of fruit. I have to say I like the peaches best of all, but will only buy them if I can get them for six or seven dollars a half bushel.

You may think I'm a little nutty for spending so much time going shopping when the grocery store is just a few miles away. I enjoy the farmers markets, the people who work at them, and the fresh food. As fall turns into winter, my choices narrow. I usually just go to the Allentown Farmers Market on a day when the weather is good. The cold weather means I can get into the really good stuff like kobasa, bratwurst and kiffles. Add in some freshly baked bread and I am happy until the spring thaw!

Foods like this will probably shorten my life but I would not want to spend my life grazing on healthy foods only to be killed in a car accident. I'm not going to miss out on the best foods Pennsylvania has to offer. The food is one of the reasons I left California. Finally I can eat what I want and not have scrawny people on twiggy legs commenting on what I eat and my body shape. They can deny themselves, pay their higher taxes, live in their green communities and complain about the rest of us. For all of their healthy living, they will not live a minute longer than their appointed time. If they don't choke on their tofu, they could die in an earthquake or a tsunami or worse, catch a fatal dose of E. coli from their lettuce.

Yes, I love the fall in Pennsylvania. I love the people, the food, the hills and the valleys. The winters are not too harsh and they are followed by a lovely spring and summer. I am thankful that I can live in this place, at this time, with people I love and respect.

© 2011 Gordon Smith - All Rights Reserved