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Saturday July 2, 2022

Hayrides & Pumpkin Pies: Harvest Season In Nova Scotia

Harvest season is inextricably associated with endless joy, Halloween, Thanksgiving, gastronomic delights and the inescapable Fall colours of Canada, the second biggest country in the world. The celebration appears to be more special to the province of Nova Scotia that owes its origin to the Latin word ‘New Scotland’ way back in the year 1621. Nestled in the eastern corner of Canada, Nova Scotia is a peninsula with vast water-bodies on three sides. The mighty North Atlantic Ocean guards its eastern and southern coasts. The Bay of Fundy, a natural wonder for receiving the world’s highest tides that rise to 53 feet above sea level, lies in the west, while the Gulf of St. Lawrence is in the north. 

Nova Scotia takes pride in being ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’ for its longest coastlines in the entire North America. Its topography is inundated with over 3000 glacial lakes, rivers, and wetlands, which keep the soil naturally hydrated, and bolster farmlands to prosper with fresh produce. Furthermore, the temperate climate serves as a perfect ingredient in making this state one of the largest suppliers of agro and aqua-based products, capable of satiating both domestic and international demands for wide varieties of fresh, pure and mouth-watering harvesting delights. 

Pumpkin Garden at Dill’s Atlantic Giants, Windsor. Image courtesy: Indranil Gupta

August to October is a busy schedule for harvesting in this province. Extensive range of crops, fish (especially tiger crab, lobster, scallops, cod, tuna, trout, salmon and haddock) and animals are being raised with utmost care. During this season, the farmlands, orchards and vineyards are open for public visit and people can handpick the produce of their choice. This practice is popularly known as the ‘U-Picks’ and ‘Farm-to-Fork’ facilities.

Farm owners greet visitors with colourful buckets and fancy carts, which are soon to be overloaded with strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, apple, apple sauce and vinegar, corn, honeydew, melon, horseradish, squash (Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti, and Hubbard varieties), tomato (red cherry, green zebra, big beef and sweet million varieties), swiss chard, leek, to name a few. Across the Highway 101 rest the sprawling farmyards for local produce for which, the highway is appropriately named as the ‘Harvest Highway’. The town of Oxford is the blueberry capital of the world that supplies both frozen and fresh blueberries throughout the world. I accompanied my husband and daughter to these farms every weekend, to sample some fresh produce.

Apple Orchard at Willowbank Farm, Wolfville. Image courtesy: Indranil Gupta

The Annapolis valley on the Harvest Highway is proudly adorned as the ‘Apple Capital’ of Nova Scotia. It produces at least twenty different varieties of apples and are showcased in the ‘Apple Blossom Festival’ every year in the harvest season. Around this time, people rush to the apple orchards to enjoy ‘apple picking’ and savour the hot and steaming apple ciders, carefully prepared at home by the lovely farmer ladies. Granny Smith, Cox Orange, Cortland, Crab, Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, Empire, Honeycrisp, Idared, Jona Gold, Northern Spy, Spartan and Sweet Tango are some of the popular varieties to choose from. 

One bright sunny morning, we ventured for apple-picking in the ‘Willowbank Farm’, in the town of Wolfville in the Annapolis valley.  It’s a sprawling farm that harvest apples, pears, berries, pumpkins and other vegetables. We plucked apples and pears from the orchard, picked a big-fat pumpkin from the pumpkin field and enjoyed hay-filled wagon ride on the well-trimmed meadow. Farm animals are a quintessential attraction for children during this season.

Petting Farm Animals at Willowbank Farmland, Wolfville. Image courtesy: Indranil Gupta

This farm is home to a petting zoo, where ‘Gary’ the goat and his friends of mules, ducklings, goslings, chickens, bunnies, horses, cows and highland cattle eagerly wait for being cuddled and their necks being scratched by the visitors. Our daughter spent a lovely afternoon feeding and cuddling these adorable animals in their equestrian stable, doll-house like coop, barn and piggy ‘palaces’. We came back home content with two bag-full of Crab and Jona Gold apples and a jar of apple cinnamon jelly. 

Fall is the best season to explore Canada and Nova Scotia in particular, as seventy-five percent of Nova Scotian area is under dense forests and thick green covers.

Pumpkin harvesting is another ubiquitous attraction, which the Nova Scotians eagerly wait for. It is harvested in almost every farmland across the Harvest Highway. We visited the ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ farmland in the town of Windsor that takes the credit for producing giant pumpkins in the world for several decades. We were overwhelmed by the enormous sizes of orange, yellow, white, and black pumpkins cultivated in the farm. Howard Dill the farm owner has patented a pumpkin seed variety called ‘Atlantic Giant’ that yields pumpkins between 150 – 210 kilos.

Due to their super jumbo sizes, this farm organizes the incredible ‘Pumpkin Regatta Water Race’ festival annually on Lake Pesaquid, where these supersized colourful ‘Atlantic Giants’ are skillfully curved into amusing sailors’ boats to entertain spectators. That apart, when the elders are busy enjoying pumpkin throwing and pumpkin carving competitions in pumpkin farmlands, the youngsters engage themselves in solving ‘Dora, the Explorer’ style mysteries in corn and sunflower mazes that further add vibrancy to this festive season.

Pumpkin Regatta Competition. Image courtesy: AwayGames.org

Cheese is a staple ingredient in the Nova Scotian cuisine. The state takes pride in producing different varieties and flavours of cheese blended beautifully with Italian herbs and seasonal fruits, namely, Blue Harbour, Cheddar, Cream Chèvre, Dragon’s Breath, Feta, Gouda, Hammer and Chisel, Havarti, Knoydart, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Quark, Ricotta, Smeerkaas, Swiss cheese and even paneer. During harvest months, the cheese factories too wait for visitors. We visited the ‘Fox Hill Cheese House’ in the village of Upper Economy on the Harvest Highway, where they demonstrate how different varieties of cheese are processed by milking Holstein and Jersey cows and Saanen goats through milking machines. Thereafter, we savoured rich creamy yoghurt and ice-creams and packed glass bottles of pasteurized chocolate milk, smoked cheese and cheese curds for home. 

Together with orchards and veggie farmlands, the honey and maple syrup farms of this province are also not left behind during the harvest seasons. Bee farms offer guided tours for exploring honey extraction from the combs and allows visitors to sample fresh honey. The farms also provide beekeeping suits to each visitor. Canada is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup and consequently, it has emerged as the most popular souvenir for visitors in this country. The maple syrups are prepared from the maple sap during spring. 

Fox Hill Cheese House Dairy Products. Image courtesy: Fox Hill Cheese House

Harvest and Fall season are two sides of the same coin in Canada. In the temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere, Fall or Autumn is commensurate with Autumnal Equinox and begins on the 21st of September. With the advent of Fall, trees briskly transform their colours from green to various shades of red, pink, purple, orange, yellow and brown before shedding their leaves and expose a spectacular vista for the nature lovers. Fall is the best season to explore Canada and Nova Scotia in particular, as seventy-five percent of Nova Scotian area is under dense forests and thick green covers. Vibrant landscapes and gleaming contours of Fall foliage boost the harvest spirit in tune with ‘Halloween’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ rituals. Together with that rich aroma of pumpkin spices and sauces, sumptuous pumpkin and apple pies, maple syrup laden roast turkey, and quirky Halloween costumes proudly welcome the Fall in this province. 

Eighty percent of the nation’s Christmas trees are supplied from Nova Scotia and the town of Lunenburg is the Balsam Fir Christmas tree capital of the world.

During Fall, the incredible ‘Scare Crow Festival’ is one of the popular fests of Nova Scotian town of Mahone Bay. It is the largest Fall Fair of the Atlantic Canada, where over 250 hand-made life sizes of extraordinary and unique scarecrows captivate the Harvest spirit. Simultaneously, the incredible ‘Haunted Houses’ in the farmyards and the ‘Historic graveyard Tours’ of this town provide the perfect eerie atmosphere of Halloween and are most frequented sites for people of all ages. 

Christmas Tree Farm, Lunenburg. Image courtesy: Indranil Gupta.

Christmas tree production is an indispensable part of Canada’s economy. Maple, White Birch, Red and Black Spruce, Norway Spruce, Balsam Fir, Douglas Fir, and Scotch Pine are ideal for Christmas trees. These are harvested right after the Thanksgiving week and are ready to be shipped for Christmas celebration worldwide. Eighty percent of the nation’s Christmas trees are supplied from Nova Scotia and the town of Lunenburg is the Balsam Fir Christmas tree capital of the world. Hence, we took the Highway 103 or better known as the ‘Fishermen’s Memorial Highway’ to visit the Christmas tree farm of Lunenburg that offers ‘U-Pick’ in the onset of Christmas, where the visitors can choose and cut their Christmas trees of their choice. Incidentally, the official Christmas Tree of Boston, USA, is donated from Nova Scotia every year as a token of gratitude for Boston’s untiring support for the Nova Scotians during the Halifax explosion of 1917. 

Farmers’ Markets across Nova Scotia are most frequented destinations both for the local farmers and local residents in Fall season. These are the places where local farmers bring their fresh farm produce, meat and poultry, sweet and dairy products to the customers. Established in 1750, the Halifax Farmers’ Market is the oldest in North America and is still operating in full swing. Visiting the farmers’ market in every harvest season has become a custom for the local residents here, especially for those, who cannot manage to visit the farmlands in harvest season.

Mahone Bay Scare Crow Festival. Image courtesy: Mahone Bay Scare Crow Festival and Antique Fair

Before I conclude, it is worth mentioning about Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia and its seaport. Since its establishment in 1749 by the British colonial settlers, Halifax is the first inbound and last outbound gateway and the closest seaport to Europe, having connected with all international markets. The local produce easily reach their destination through the water-bound passage of the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway comprising natural channels and artificial canals that link the Pacific Ocean in the west with the Atlantic in the east and subsequently, the Indian Ocean. It is specially designed to pass bulk cargo vessels called Lakers that carry grains, fruits, iron and minerals from east coast of North America to Europe and Asia through Halifax port.

Given the unusual pandemic situation in this year 2020, though many of the attractions were called off, especially, the ‘Pumpkin Regatta’ competition in Windsor and ‘Scarecrow Festival’ at Mahone Bay, the joy and happiness still pervade the atmosphere laden with the aroma of ripe pumpkins, harvest delicacies and an explosion of Fall colours. They leave behind unforgettable memories to be cherished throughout one’s lifetime. 

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