After a summer that has been alternately too hot, too wet, or sometimes both at once, it is with a sigh of relief that I now slide into what is my favorite time of the year, late summer and autumn.
The full realization of it hit me unexpectedly yesterday.
I had just returned from an overnight stay at my daughter Kathy’s in southern New Hampshire and was unpacking the car and putting things away, when I looked down at the kitchen counter in front of me and the phrase “My cup runneth over” suddenly flashed into my mind.
Lined up right there in a row in front of me was a big bag of blueberries (3 ¾ pounds of them to be exact) still warm from the pick-your-own orchard where I had picked them less than three hours earlier, a jar of apricot jam processed that morning by Kathy from fruit she had picked just a day earlier at the same orchard, and a carton filled with a dozen and a half eggs of various sizes and colors (some of which I had gathered myself literally moments before getting into the car and heading home) from my grandson Matt’s flock of chickens. It felt like riches beyond measure.
Summer is beginning to offer up the fruits of its labors and I for one realize how lucky I am to be in the here and now, ready and able to accept and enjoy its bounty.
I already had 8-pint bags of berries in my small chest freezer from berry picking one week earlier, and I plan to pick more later today with my friend Jeanne, most of which will also be stored for use during the cold hard days of winter. Part of the haul, however, will be put to more immediate use, maybe in a nice pie with buttery rich homemade pate brisee crust to share with my sister Bev and her husband when we play cards tomorrow. Fresh, hand-picked local berries need to be savored in the moment as well as being stored for later use.
On my to-do list for later this weekend is the annual pesto making thing, usually shared (both labor and end product) with Bev. The basil in my herb garden is lush and needs to be picked before it goes to seed. I have a bag of fresh garlic and a jug of good olive oil at the ready. I just need to cut and wash the basil, peel the garlic, and plug in the food processor, and with Bev measuring the oil and me measuring the basil and garlic, we make short work of it. Jujj, jujj, jujj in the blender, then scoop it by cupfuls into the labeled and waiting freezer bags that will be zipped shut and carefully flattened for easy stacking in the freezer, and we will be all set for another year. Bev uses it with chicken and/or pasta. I use it to flavor minestrone or to “butter” slabs of baguette for caprese sandwiches. Yum!
Then before you know it, it will be time for peaches.
Timing is everything when it comes to peaches. They come into season when they are good and ready, and then again, just as quickly, they are gone. Kathy monitors their progress at the orchard up near her where they have spoiled me for peaches from anywhere else. In a normal good year, they are softball size, sweet, and juicy, and reasonably priced when we buy their really beautiful “seconds” for canning and making jam. Even once purchased, your window of opportunity tends to close rapidly as they will go from perfect to rotting within a few days, so I make sure I am primed and ready to roll ahead of time. I buy them by the half-bushel box, making sure that my stock of sugar, pectin, and canning jars are ready to go. Then it’s time to move like your tail is on fire to get it all done in one or maybe two days. Is it a lot of work? It sure is, but it’s well worth it in the long run.
And then, no sooner are the peaches processed than it’s time for the tomatoes that I buy and can one 25-pound box at a time until I have enough to see me through the year. The good news is that tomatoes are easier than peaches. No pits and a lot less sticky. You process peaches and everything in the kitchen winds up sticky. Not so much with tomatoes.
If I could only manage one single thing to process for the year? No question about it, it would have to be tomatoes. My father had a big garden when I was a kid, and my parents canned cases of tomatoes every year. I grew up on homemade soup made with home canned tomatoes and there is absolutely nothing in the world that tastes quite the same.
Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.