When John Keats, the famous 19th century English poet, wrote To Autumn, identifying it as "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", the imagery in his poem was all about harvest time, describing ripening fruit and stores of wheat.

In 19th century Europe, having food for the year required actively preserving the autumn abundance for storage over the winter and spring months.

In the past, it was common for New Zealanders to preserve seasonal foods, from either their own orchards and gardens or using produce from local growers.

Youngsters learned the skills of preserving at school as well as at home. A&P shows all over the country displayed prized products of the home orchard and kitchen, with jams, pickles, chutneys and other preserves.


The modern lifestyle in New Zealand, as in other developed countries around the world, dislocates many of us from the food-gathering, preserving and storage tasks that were traditional in autumn, but having our food supply available from supermarkets at all times comes as a cost to the planet.

It takes considerable energy resources and financial investment to grow, transport, preserve and store food on an industrial scale.

Growing our own food, preserving it and storing it takes time and energy too, but it can be very satisfying. An apple tree laden with ripe fruit is a beautiful sight and there are many ways to use the crop. You can give your surplus to others who do not have space for a tree, stew and bottle the fruit, turn it into a tasty chutney, or make your own apple juice.

For those partial to a mild brew, cider is not hard to make and if you have access to a dehydrator, dried apples are a good lunchbox snack for kids.

And that's just apples. There are so many lovely seasonal foods that we can enjoy this autumn.

Making the most of the autumn harvest is a great option for anyone trying to live more lightly on the planet.

Margie Beautrais
Margie Beautrais

Using your harvest is a good way to eat a healthier diet and avoid artificial ingredients that are added to industrially produced foods.

You might have to occasionally cut a codlin moth caterpillar out of your apple, but at least you will know it has been produced without pesticides that accumulate in human bodies as well as harming the natural environment.


This autumn, I encourage you to make the most of the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness". Find a good local source of fruit or vegetables then get out your grandma's old recipe book and make some champion chutney. Here is an old marrow pickle recipe from the GEC Cookery Book of 1938 to get started.

Marrow pickle
Peel marrow, cut out seeds and cut into small squares. Weight 1.8kg. Put into basin, sprinkle with salt and leave overnight. Strain through a colander. Peel, core, and cut into small pieces 450g of apples and 450g of onions. Put all together in a preserving pan with 1.7 litres of vinegar, 225g brown sugar, 6 chillies, 12 cloves. Mix 14g yellow turmeric and 14g dry mustard to a paste with a little vinegar. Add this to the rest of the mixture. Boil until tender 1-2 hours. Then bottle.

Margie Beautrais is the educator at Whanganui Regional Museum.