A Harvest Party to Celebrate Autumn

From leaf piles to lasagnas in pumpkins, inspiration for get-togethers this fall

When fall begins, exactly, is debatable. For some, it’s Labor Day weekend, when the beach house is secured for the winter and there is a scramble to get the last swim in the ocean. Yet, it's the arrival of the school bus on that first day of school that often marks the advent of fall for children (and their parents). And for others, like me, it’s that first cup of apple cider and the vibrant, patchwork of colors on the trees.

Regardless of what camp you’re in, fall is officially here as September 23rd, the Autumnal Equinox. Whether you’re lucky enough to still have the backyard pool open, or have already swapped out shorts and dinner parties on the back patio for wool sweaters and brisk evenings gathering around the fireplace (or fire pit), it doesn't matter. Now is the time to pull out the cider press or spend an afternoon at the corn maze, then invite friends and family back home for a get-together to celebrate the season.

 

Activities

With the leaves beginning to fall and the apples red and ripe on the trees, get outside and enjoy the brilliant hues of fall foliage before it all disappears.

• Head out to your local park for a walk in the woods or challenge friends with an afternoon spent at a corn maze (trying not to get lost). 

• Locate a pick-your-own orchard nearby and take the family to go pick a bag or two of apples. Warm up with mugs of cider and pick up some cider doughnuts for the ride home.

• Using leaves gathered outside, make your own leaf-printed place mats for the table — all you need are some plain linen placemats or even construction paper. Paint one side of the leaf with fabric or tempera paint and press down firmly. Let the mats dry before using. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Angela K. Severn)

 

Setting the Scene

When setting the table, look to the fruits, vegetables, and colors of the season for inspiration.

• Begin with a neutral-colored tablecloth, like one made of flax-toned linen or burlap.

• Line the center of the table with colorful leaves. Add an array of pumpkins and squashes on top for something three-dimensional. If you have a large vase, cut a branch of maple leaves and use it either to decorate the table or greet guests when they first walk in.

• As the metallic look is in this season, add a golden touch to the table with spray-painted acorns. Send the kids out to collect the fallen acorns from under the oak tree (or buy them here). Lay out newspaper and spray paint all sides (you might need to do two coats) of the nuts. Dry completely.

• Instead of traditional place cards, use items from nature, like fallen leaves, or that guests can bring home, like mini pumpkins. Alternatively, for something crafty, use dried gourds like these (above) and cut out leaves made of construction paper for the name.

 

Cocktails

When hosting a family-friendly fall get-together, be sure to have a signature seasonal beverage for both kids and adults.

• Kids will love these thick and creamy pumpkin smoothies that are just like a milkshake.

• Sparkling wine, topped off with a splash of apple cider, is one of my favorite cocktails for fall — especially if the cider is fresh pressed. It's perfect for grown-ups.

• Cider, of course, is a must. If serving it warm, consider adding mulling spices or a splash of applejack for something a bit more exciting. 

 

Menu

Just as produce and colors of the season inspire the table, use the same ingredients when planning the menu.

• Instead of regular crackers and cheese, offer guests a slice of this squash galette with cocktails. Set out a couple of bowls of these spicy-sweet nuts (with a kick from bourbon) for snacking, too.

• For the main course, let how you want the party to feel guide your menu decisions. For a low-key, casual family get-together after apple picking, serve up bowls of a hearty Brisket and Pumpkin Chili, served with cornbread or muffins

• For a more formal, sit-down meal for adults only, offer something more dramatic like a hearty lasagna assembled and baked in a real pumpkin. Serve along with a fall salad like this one made with tiny Champagne grapes and pumpkin seeds.

• After a filling meal, offer something light and simple for dessert along with mugs of warm, spiked cider. For a family, plan for a create-your-own caramel apple station. Have an adult dip each skewered apple into the caramel, then let kids top their own with chocolate chips, graham cracker crumbs, chopped almonds, and a white chocolate drizzle.

• With a package of pre-baked tart shells, you can also create your own dramatic dessert. Scoop a tablespoon of pumpkin butter into each shell, top with whipped cream, and garnish with a shard of peanut brittle. Easy!

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