It appears to be Summer, and according to the calendar, it still is until the Autumnal Equinox, observed by Pagans as the holiday of Mabon. However, having just celebrated the first harvest holiday of Lughnasadh at the beginning of August, we instinctually feel the need to hunt and gather as our ancestors did. To preserve the Earth’s bounty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs and prepare for the dark times ahead.
Memories of kitchen windows fogged over, forming rivulets of the water that ran down them as if it was raining indoors awaken my senses. A huge granite kettle on the stove contained a roiling froth of water that made a knocking sound as it rocked on the cherry-red, hot burner and turned the kitchen into a steam bath. The canning jars inside would ring cheerily as they clinked together. It was important that they be sterilized to the point that they squeaked when they were pulled from the boiling water.
The annual ritual of seeing my mother preparing the garden overflow was repeated in many kitchens throughout the country at this time. Jewel toned home-made jellies in paraffin topped crystalline jars would sparkle in the sun. The citrine hue of apple, amethyst shaded elderberry, deep garnet chokecherry, and that wonderful ruby colored combination made from leftover amounts too small to fill a jar that was christened, “mixed fruit”.
Green beans and pickles stood tall in jars awaiting vinegar spiked brine, the aroma of fresh dill and garlic made every inhalation divinely delicious. They would be ready by Thanksgiving, when the musical, back note crunch they lent to the orchestral chime of silverware could be heard around the table.
The glorious warm, woody smell of cinnamon sticks and whole cloves have become the signature scents of Fall. They infused the sticky sweet syrup that would cling to peaches, plums and crabapples when they were plucked from their jars and ladled over ice cream in crispy, baked clouds of merengue or stood delightfully on their own in fine, china dessert bowls.
Tomatoes gave up their lusty tang when they became sauces, juice or that wonderful mélange of flavors of green peppers and onions to become ‘stewed’. Almost a meal in itself when accompanied by crusty slices of bread generously spread with sweet, creamy butter and dipped into the broth.
Before pumpkins and Winter squash become ubiquitous as adornment for mantle and table, pies, and a platform for marshmallow goo, relish the vines and the other bounty entangled in their spirals. Venture forth into the woods where glistening blackberries beg to be savored. Birds and Bears will seldom give up this cherished secret. The bloodletting ritual of getting scratched by the thorns will become tomorrow’s battle scars worthy of bragging rights back at the office where you may be asked if you spent the weekend wrestling feral Kittens.
Wild grapes, that when tasted off the vine, will have you puckering and spitting in short order should not be abandoned. Gather them and bring them home where the addition of sugar and yeast will provide you with a boast and toast worthy batch of wine to share with those you love.
Jars of pride infused home-canned produce would be entered in county fairs with the hope of winning the coveted ‘Blue Ribbon’ and in rural areas, this has not changed. Many jars are adorned by hand crafted labels and raffia bows to be given as gifts and were as appreciated as anything Tiffany’s could put in tiny boxes.
This time honored tradition of “putting up” food, as it was called, has succumbed to the convenience of grocery stores and mass marketing of canned ‘goods’. Sadly, many of the dishes that used to grace the table regularly have now become novelty items tucked into premade food baskets as ‘filler’, often gathering dust on pantry shelves or re-gifted when they’ve sat unopened and untried long enough. Delightful concoctions such as corn relish, and fruit compotes have become today’s salsas and still add a burst of flavor that should not be reserved only for snacks and chips. I recently made a cucumber, kiwi salsa that accompanied both chicken and fish equally well and became an adventure when I boldly served it with a sage laced pork sausage.
Stroll this bridge between Summer and Fall. Here in Wisconsin, this is the last “hurrah” of scorching beaches, balmy breezes and tall drinks shaded by paper umbrellas before it gives way to frosty lawn mornings, crisp slices of wind and hot cocoa bon-fire nights.
Every season has its beauty in Nature that provides experiences to treasure. Feel them, taste them, smell them and view them through the eyes of your soul.
So, what’s going on within and without your windows?