30th September: The Harvest Moon

Oh, shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain't had no lovin'
Since January, February, June or July.

From: ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’ 
Music and Lyrics by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth.

The harvest moon is the full moon that occurs nearest to the autumn equinox, sometimes before it and sometimes after. The equinox was last week and the harvest moon is tonight.  The other thing that characterises the harvest moon, is that it rises very shortly after sunset and this evening the gap between sunset and moonrise will be only about half an hour.

I was driving home a couple of weeks ago, and as I approached the end of the Cornish peninsula I saw both the sun set and the new moon rise ahead of me. Driving home in the evening down here always means driving into the sun, with the sea on your left and on your right and straight ahead.  It feels like you are approaching the edge of the world.

The new moon was huge; a thin, silver sickle hanging just above the horizon surrounded by apricot clouds. It was quite clear as I looked, that what I was seeing was the sunlight catching the edge of a circular object hanging in the sky. The bit of the moon I couldn’t see was quite apparent, if that makes sense. Samuel Palmer caught it just right.

The harvest moon is usually depicted as a glowing orange disc low on the horizon and of course in ancient times it meant that there was enough light to carry on harvesting without having to break off until moonrise. A hunter’s moon, in case you are interested is the full moon in October.

My favourite painter, Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) painted the September moon a number of times. Here he is again.

The other thing about the harvest moon is that because of the spatial relationship between the elliptical orbit of the earth and the moon, the harvest moon seems to last longer at the full than a normal moon.

The reason it seems so big is because of something called the ‘moon illusion’. This is a phenomenon not of the moon but of the human brain, which perceives objects that are low in the sky as being much larger than ones which are high in the sky. No one knows definitely why this is !!!

There are of course lots of theories; some of which may be correct.  But it is probably to do with the fact that we can't perceive the size and distance of objects high in the sky, but our brain takes a stab at judging distance of low objects in relation to what is between us and them, ie the surface of the earth, and they just seem closer.  Of course the moon is always the same size and the same distance away, it just looks different.  Imagine how fascinating that must have been to ancient people, who even with their fantastic ability to predict eclipses and to understand the cycle of the years, didn't know about neuroscience!

Anyway I’ve been trying to think of a way to celebrate the harvest moon. It has to be bread of course.

I’ve made a loaf with Kamut flour i.e. triticum turgidum ssp.turanicum, otherwise known as khorasan wheat. It’s an ancient variety of large grain wheat, rich in proteins and selenium. It is one of those early cereals like emmer and spelt that came out of the cradle of farming; the fertile crescent that curves from Egypt up to to Mesopotamia, which is modern day Iraq. Kamut looks a bit like cornmeal when it comes out of the bag, and although light, contains all of the grain and husk.

This is the Doves Farm recipe from the back of the packet. The fun is in the decoration.

Harvest Moon Loaf

500g Kamut flour
½ tsp fine salt
1 tsp quick yeast
1 tsp sugar (I used honey)
375ml lukewarm water. I used slightly more and I used spring water.
2 tbsp oil. I used extra virgin rape seed oil.

Basically you just mix everything together and then knead it really well until you can feel it getting stretchy. Cover the dough with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour to rise up. Knock back, knead again briefly and put on a baking sheet and dust with flour. Leave for another 30 minutes.

Turn on the oven to 200c.

Make a plain dough with warm water and a cup of strong flour. Knead until smooth and elastic – about 10 minutes. Roll it out and cut out your shapes and glaze them with beaten egg, do it a couple of times for a good rich colour. I made a moon, stars and a stalk of wheat. Set them aside for the moment.

Bake the loaf for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and stick on your decorations using a bit more beaten egg. Return to the oven and bake for another 20-30 minutes until the decoration is a rich brown and the loaf is cooked through.

PS. This makes a cakey sort of bread, nice tasting but a bit stodgy. It was better and actually quite delicious when toasted.

….All things are symbols: the external shows

Of Nature have their image in the mind,

As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;

The song birds leave us at the summer's close,

Only the empty nests are left behind,

And pipings of the quail among the sheaves. 

From ‘The Harvest Moon’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

P.S. Many thanks to my namesake Mary Beth, who with the wonders of technology from half way across the earth, turned my moon around so it was facing the right way!


Mary Beth said...

Hi Liz! The combox ate my post somehow- I wrote you as soon as I saw this wonderful post on Sunday but it never posted somehow. The thing is, at the time I wrote it, everyone around here was still commenting on the gorgeous Harvest Moon- particularly beautiful this year. Thank you for introducing me to Samuel Palmer- he is new to me. And the lovely bread is such an inspired and charming idea!

What I am now hoping for (hint, hint) is that you can somehow video record that view along the sea, as you approach "the edge of the world". And tie that into the next time you post about, say, the Hunters' Moon ;)

I will have to see if I still have kamut grains in my pantry. I think I could soak them or cook them easier than I could turn them into flour. It would be fun to bake them into a version of your harvest loaf.

Blessings on your October!

Mary Beth said...

Liz, glad to lend a hand to *my* namesake on the other end of the Atlantic! (With the photo this side up, the Moon's cheek is very nicely profiled now.)

Homeandfood said...

What an incredibly interesting blog post, I must say I can't quite imagine a harvest moon, but it sounds absolutely beautiful. Funnily enough I used to play a game called Harvest Moon As a child all about farming. Anyway, you have a very interesting blog which must take an awful lot of research, kudos to you.

The loaf looks lovely too!