Just sitting here, letting the cooling breeze of a mild October evening roll over me, as I survey the rows and rows of jars headed for the basement where they will live until needed through the next several months. It is a little exhausting but mostly exhilarating to look at them, knowing that I did this. I did this! Well, with some help from Jeff who provided a much needed third hand at time, and lots of muscle at others, for the heavy canning pots I’m still not permitted to lift and/or carry. This to me is the bliss of autumn.
I am not a fan of August heat. One can only take off so much clothing before one is arrested, whereas in autumn one can slip on another sweater, or even wear shoes and be comfortable in every way. Plus, in the fall, there is something special about the blue sky, a much more vibrant colour than summer skies, or so I think anyway.
What I do love about the end of summer and beginning of fall is farmers markets, overflowing with fruits and vegetables, overflowing with the chance to make great jams and pickles, chutneys and relishes.
I didn’t have the chance to make much last year, being ‘hors de combat’ as it were. I am grateful to my sister-in-law, Karen, for sharing a little peach jam with us, as well as several containers of peach slices for the freezer. Can you say peach cobbler with ice cream??
This year, however, I went to town! Or rather, the farmer’s market quite a few times. I made bread & butter pickles (dear lord, but why would anyone buy them in jars from a supermarket when these are easy-peasy and soooo delicious??) and dill pickles. Many thanks to the farm couple who told me about using dill weed instead of fresh dill; there was NONE to be found at market that Thursday morning but there must have been 20 tonnes of pickling cucumbers for sale. She said she only used dill weed now, instead of fresh dill, and loved the results. So, I gave it a try. I mean, if you can’t trust your farmer, who can you trust, eh?
They were right. The pickles are firm and crunchy, and exactly the right amount of dill-ness, combined with two or three cloves of garlic for some great eating pickles.
Earlier in the summer, I make strawberry jam with fresh pineapple. Perhaps because it was fresh pineapple, and not tinned, the jam has turned out to be more jelly-like than expected but it tastes really, really good. Definitely a keeper recipe.
I also took advantage of cherry season to make fresh cherry jam with pear. The idea of combining those two fruits sort of surprised me, but as I like both, decided to give it a try. Oooh, so good. A little runnier than expected (natural pectin is a challenge for sure!) but so wonderful. And, with the ‘gift’ of a $2 4 quart basket of apricots, I made an apricot & golden sultana conserve, which is not sweet and makes a great glaze (when judiciously thinned with a little juice or rum) for pork or chicken, as well as a kickass jam for crumpets.
A conserve, if you didn’t know as I didn’t know either, is a jam with either nuts or raisins added. I prefer raisins. I can hear my mother from here hollering “Nuts! Go with nuts!” She hated raisins.
One of the other two jams I made were a repeat from 2015 which Jeff & I both loved – pear with ginger and creme de cacao. The ginger really gives it a snap, not sweet at all, and the creme de cacao is a nice way to drink in the morning.
The second late summer jam was new to me. Deliciously ripe and juicy peaches and pears run into each other at the end of summer, if you’re lucky. I got lucky this year, so made some peach and pear jam. The thing about this one is that it’s nothing but fruit so you get great flavours, some running down your chin off the English muffins. Mmm.
As for more savoury choices, I made plum & apple & raisin chutney with lots of spices – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice. The plum-only version is thicker and darker, but this one is wonderful with ham. Oh, so wonderful with ham. Breakfast tomorrow for Jeff will be a Croque Monsieur sandwich with this chutney, a blatant attempt to get a couple of pairs of new shoes… and I think it’s going to work, that’s how good this stuff is.
I forwent making Governor’s Sauce this year (Governor’s Lumps my father used to call it), which I suspect I’m going to regret later this winter, but I did make chili sauce and that’s all yummy goodness. I have to say that my chili sauce turns out different every single year, and sometimes quite dramatically different, even though I use the same recipe — my mother’s, of course — every year. This batch is different because I used Roma tomatoes because that’s what was ripe in Jeff’s garden in quantities large enough for cooking. I like it but I think I’ll go back to “regular” tomatoes next summer.
And, especially for my dear Uncle Bruce, mustard relish. He loved my mother’s mustard relish, and it’s taken me a long, long time to balance the ingredients out just so, so to make a batch that’s as good as hers. Well, maybe I should say ‘almost as good as hers’. He has a BIG birthday coming up later this year, and our gift to him is several jars of mustard relish, some pickles, some chili sauce, some jams… Gifts from the pot and the heart.
I still have pickled beets to make but having learned a very important trick from my mother later in her life, I can do those any time. I used to spend hours trying to make balls of beets from fresh beets every year and they never turned out the way hers did – they were lumpy and too big and basically ugly. We were at the table at the cottage when I told her my tale of woe and she started laughing so hard, she started to cough and choke, and then started to laugh again. “I used tinned beets, you dumpfkof!” She loved me most when she called me that.
So pickled beets and citrus onion marmalade (which I love but which my bestie Lynn also loves, by the quart jar) are still to come.
Bags of veggies frozen, some pureed strawberries for trifle at Christmas (and other trifling moments), and some containers of soup, and that, I think covers it. I feel so accomplished for doing this, but more importantly, I feel connected. I feel like my mother and grandmothers are watching out over me, keeping on eye no the pots with bubbling goodness inside, the canning pot with boiling water to help preserve everything safely. I feel their hearts and minds, and especially their hands, lightening the work, sharing the stories and joy.
Come by sometime for toast and jam, or apricot glazed pork loin, or chili sauce and mustard relish on your bratwurst. I’ll be glad to open up a jar for you.