All about canned peaches and crabapple jelly
September 15, 2007
We’ve been doing a marathon (or at least a 5K) of harvesting and preserving fruit and vegetables. It goes on all season, of course, from the first dill leaves until the last pumpkin, but it is most intense from Labor Day until frost. Earlier, the cherries and apricots had so little fruit, the work was negligible. We canned peaches and tomatoes from the farmers’ market and made peach jam and a big pot of tomato sauce. Last year enough of our tomatoes ripened to put up, but this year we had to buy them as well as the peaches, which are a winter favorite though we can’t grow them. Gerry made jelly from the bountiful crop of our crabapple tree. I chopped and froze peppers and batches of basil and parsley for pesto.
We canned and dried our pears. As you may remember from a previous column, we took a chance and picked our pears and plums way early because we were loathe to share them with the bears. When a fruit is severed from its plant, the cell expansion that causes it to swell stops, but ripening will continue if the fruit is mature enough. The pears, laid out on newspapers in our “cold room” (a dark, unheated spare room), stayed small but are ripening as sweetly as ever. The plums, stashed in the fridge, have not fared as well. They looked more mature than the pears, full-sized and dark purple, but weren’t developed enough to be able to convert their starches into sugar. Instead of becoming soft, juicy and sweet as candy, as I had hoped, they have stayed tart and are just slowly shriveling. In a few days, we’ll have to freeze, can or dry them as well. Drying uses only the direct energy of the sun, but canned or frozen plums are better for my Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake).
This was a bumper year for chipmunks, and they laid siege to successive sowings of lettuce, consuming the succulent seedlings almost as soon as the poor things popped their cotyledons and ventured into the light of day. However, July rains moderated the hot temperatures and kept a few surviving lettuces from bolting (setting seed) so that we had salads for a good part of the summer. The peas and basil didn’t germinate well. My mother warned me that chamomile tried to take over her garden, and I was hoping it would try that in mine, but no such luck; my harvest is only a fraction of last years. Cucumbers started badly with low germination too, but a few plants, supplemented by seedlings from a local nursery, took off and it’s been a good year for cucumbers. Too bad the purchased seedlings were unlabeled, so we won’t be able to plant them again. Oh well, next summer might not be a good one for cucumbers anyway.
For years Gerry couldn’t plant potatoes because they were plagued by flea beetles, but this year he tried again: No flea beetles and lots of delicious potatoes! They will soon join the big basket of garlic on the floor of the spare room, along with the apples, winter squash and pie pumpkins yet to come. The odds and ends of shelves are filling up with full mason jars in delectable jewel colors. For optimum storage the room should really be colder. I really envy my mother for her cold cellar.
Growing, preserving and fixing fruit and vegetables from our own garden may be a lot of work and it ties us down, but it is also give us great pleasure. It is so satisfying to know your food from seed to table. Like a slinky toy cascading down the stairs, it is a series of connected circles. A cycle of life is completed with every year, and the cycles are connected, but they’re never quite the same. Every year, some crop grows poorly or not at all. And every year, something else flourishes beyond expectation. It all balances out.
I find it immensely reassuring to go into the winter with our full larder. I used to think it just represented a personal lifestyle choice, but increasingly I am becoming aware that how and what I eat affects the very planet. According Chris Goodall’s calculations in “how to live a low-carbon life,” our industrial food chain is the most important indirect source of devastating greenhouse gas emissions.
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