It's officially September. I saw squashes at the market last weekend, sort of to my chagrin. I'm happy to eat fall foods if the weather cooperates, but this week nature isn't giving us that. In the spring, when it is still chilly, we are so eager for those greens and what they signify that we begin say, by sneaking some kale into a warm soup, even though our bodies may not be totally ready for the transition. We will the weather to cooperate with our whim. We are able to anticipate what we need, and so, eager to shake off the deep freeze of winter, we eat our greens and await the real harbingers, asparagus and peas.
In the summer, when those grounding, warming foods show up, we are not prepared for them yet. We are dealing with tomato and corn, and peaches are still going until the end of this month. (This is what I'm told.) When the weather is in a hot streak of 90 degrees plus swamp-like humidity, eating a sweet potato is a heavy reminder of our connection to the earth, one which is wasted on us because we are staunchly reminded of September, with its last gasp of summer, trying its hardest not to let go. We cannot really appreciate the need to feel grounded as we can in the winter, when the earth is blanketed in snow and icicles form on downspouts. Heck, the ground is not even covered in leaves yet. Or is it?
Somehow, that shift from cold to warm is easier to handle. Maybe it's my dosha talking, but summer's heat blasts us, inconsistently and inappropriately, until we can't take it anymore—and then it gives up altogether. Magically, one morning, it's fall. However, I can't bring myself to start working with apples and pumpkins. As much as I am ready for cooler temperatures and I am definitely finished with being wet (either from sweat, chlorine or saltwater), I'm not finished with summer's bounty. Yet.
So what's the most logical thing to do? Turn on your stove and start cooking down jams and making pickles. Localize the heat and contain it. I can't help but think of my friend Jamie, who has been canning en masse this summer, at the hotel she and her husband own in France.
Here's what you should be doing with the last bits of summer.
- Deal with those tomatoes. At my farmers' market, I've been seeing a 25 pound box of organic plum tomatoes available from Blooming Glen, for $25. A steal. Sweat equity I've invested so far will pay off in the winter, when I have tomato jam, frozen roasted tomatoes, canned whole tomatoes and whatever else I can muster with the remaining five or so pounds. I've been following the techniques outlined by Food In Jars. I defer to Marisa in all contemporary canning methods.
- Make the freezer your friend. I've been freezing fruits all summer, but you can also start freezing peppers right now, as they are fairly abundant and winter peppers are SO crazy expensive I refuse to buy them. I sometimes roast them and freeze them; other times I am lazy and chop them and freeze them. When I am feeling more thoughtful and have time, I blanch and freeze them.
- Eat outside as much as possible. Use your grill and push the daylight to its limits. When we are under our blankets on the couch and staring outside at 5pm and it's dark and cold, we'll be glad we maximized the previous season's offerings. We will know we have squeezed out all it has offered us. We can curl up with our mugs of tea or coffee and watch a movie and know that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. And then go a little stir crazy and bundle up and go for a walk because winter air is a blank slate that is good for your synapses.
- Dehydrate your herbs, what's left of them. You don't need a fancy food dehydrator, but it helps, especially with some of the more delicate ones. Herbs typically require a fairly low (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature; if your oven doesn't go that low, you can always air dry them but it will take its sweet time. Tie a bunch of the stems together and hang them upside down happily somewhere in your kitchen in a warmish spot. (Or, if you're like the former owner of our house, tie them upside down in a creepy manner, and hang them in unsuspecting places like the insides of closet doors.)
- Make compound butters with your herbs, or infuse olive oil with them, or turn them into pestos, which you can then freeze in ice cube trays. Mine have lids; I saved the ones that I used for making baby food what feels like many years ago. You can also buy these from Ball.
If I have forgotten anything, please check out this piece I wrote for the Kitchn last year.
As you complete these preserving tasks, please don't lose sight of what you are doing. Don't let the effort overwhelm you or stress you out. Don't worry too much about whether it will work or how it will taste. If you assume all is well, it will be. Make a mental list of how you will use those preserves, whether they are pickled veggies or sweet or savory jams. Or peaches in syrup (this year, it's happening).
This disconnect between what the markets offers and what the weather offers doesn't last very long. When you're in tune with your body and nature, it can sometimes feel longer than that. However, that window of time is when we need to get no-nonsense on nature, hunker down and get to work.
Lustrous and dark, this tomato jam is waiting for some good cheese, a veggie burger, or a spoon. I cooked down two pounds into 16 ounces of jam in about an hour. You can do this, too.