Preserving August in Vermont

Going through the garden, about ten days ago... these are the cucumbers, the pumpkins, the sunflowers, and a straggly watermelon or two...

August is a symphony.  At night, the crickets being to chirp and to sing in our garage, drawing closer to home, seeking shelter for the cold days ahead.  Crickets slide the top of one wing on the underside of another to make their chirping noise, one edge of wing gliding on another like a bow on a string instrument.  Their noise in the garage is a reminder that fall is near.  Each August, I take up knitting again, and in the evenings the metal click of the needles and the yarn mark time, one needle against another, the crickets and their noise just outside, the wool slipping over metal needles under lamp-light, the darkness ahead settling down.

This is high summer, but the night falls earlier each day, and the prospect of winter is steady and sure.  I want to hold on to these bright hot days, I want to tuck away the feeling of pulling beans, and twisting off ripe tomatoes, the heat and humidity, collect the heat and the symphony of sound and color, preserve this feeling of high summer and save it for the darker days ahead, the cold of winter when summer heat seems so far away.

Early ripe apples, the ones that fall off the tree and must be sorted carefully, the unmarked ones gathered. I turn these into dried apple rings..

Outside, in the August late afternoons, under the apple trees, you can hear the soft “plonk” of early apples falling ripe from the trees.  I gather up the unmarked apples, laying in the grass (I call these falls) and wash them, core them, peel and slice them into rings, dry them, and pack them into glass jars.  Later, when most of the apples ripen, we will pick them off the trees, and make apple sauce, by coring, simmering, milling, and hot water canning.

The green beans get blanched and frozen, or pickled with dill and garlic, and hot water bath canned, in glass jars that hold a bit of summer within their confines. Tomatoes get sliced, sprinkled with sea salt, and dried.  Sunflower heads (their seeds a treat for the chickens) will be hung from the chicken coop rafters, potatoes stored in bushels in the cool cellar, pumpkins and winter squash stored, again some for the chickens.

A lobster platter plate of green beans that will soon be pickled dilly beans...

I find the army of canning jars meant to preserve summer, put up with such effort and enthusiasm (picking, coring, peeling, slicing, blanching, cooking, cooling, stacking on the shelves like a barrier against the coming freeze), and the stores hanging from rafter and in bushel baskets, usually end up falling short of expectations, later on in the depths of winter.  Like the dried version of fresh white hydrangea flowers, these preserves are the husks of summer, the ghosts of heat and light, firecracker stubs and ends rather than the real thing.

Each August day in Vermont is like a roman candle, of heat and light, buzzy mosquitos and damp sweat, endless green weeds and jungle gardens, chickens skating like water bugs over mown grass, chicken feathery inquisitive heads, the low dusty anthills and the sweeps of ferny forest, orchard meadows, branches with low plums and hanging grapes, rocky riverbeds and stepping in to a river, the view of cold feet through the prism of a running stream, the surface flecked with light, skin flecked with water, none of this can be adequately captured in a jar or preserved (except in memory). If the month of August is a symphony of sound and color, these jars and preserves are like written music, notes on paper rather than played on instruments.

August blooming: the oriental lily - these lilies smell divine, and they have a sort of cantilevered structural magic, like medieval cathedrals with their flying buttresses...

So, feel the warmth, take note of the sunlight, the shadows, the symphony of color and sound, and remember the summer while you are still in it, and hold onto it as best you can, for memories of these summer days may serve as moments of respite in the months of cold ahead, and preserve far more of a Vermont summer than any canning jar possibly could.

The garden in August, ready to harvest tomatoes, corn, cukes, beans, chard...

IMG_4789

  1. Bonus Sidebar tips for preserves:
    1. When canning, set up a propane fueled cooking ring outside.  This keeps the boiling outside the kitchen, the worst part of canning.
    2. Always read instructions carefully and follow them precisely. Carelessness in canning can easily lead to botulism. Botulism is not a fun dinner partner, it’s fatal.
    3. Get the biggest dehydrator you can afford… or that you think you can fill. Use a plug in timer.
      A basket of apples that my dehydrator will just hold once peeled, cored, and sliced.
    4. If you end up with too much, consider donating freshly harvested garden produce to your local food shelf.
    5. Finally, when things start ripening so fast that it’s a full time job on top of the full time work you already have, if you can’t keep up, it really is perfectly alright to throw the giant overgrown knobby green beans deep in the corn. But, save the giant overgrown cucumbers for the chickens, they LOVE them.IMG_4854Chickens eating a barrow full of weeds in their pen.We leave these early apple falls for the chickens, since they fall into the chicken pen. They ferment, and so our chickens have the option of a little fizzy apple cider if they so choose...

18 thoughts on “Preserving August in Vermont

    1. We do have a few varieties of cicadas in Vermont, according to a quick online search, but I can’t discern which where. These are the insects that make a day-time droning curve of of song, right? We haven’t had any of the sort that eat everything in their path, luckily.

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  1. While I have been moaning that I wish fall would arrive because I want to wear sweatshirts, you do make summer so delicious! Maybe lingering here a little longer isn’t so bad. I admire the hard work you put into growing and canning your food. It is so rewarding to eat it because so much love has gone into it. (I buy my produce – fresh or frozen at the market. I used to can foods with my mother when I was growing up.)

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  2. Margit Van Schaick

    Daphne, a practical note: instead of freezing/canning green beans and other veggies separately, make soup. So,come January, you can heat up a delicious ready-to-eat soup, (maybe adding some pesto you’ve made from your herb garden). Leslie Land, “Reading between the Recipes”, impressed me with this idea years ago, when I was learning how to cook. I like to freeze soup in wide-mouth glass jars. BTW, your chickens look so healthy and happy, enjoying all that fresh air and yummy food. Their eggs, I imagine, are very tasty.

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  3. Continue to love what you do. I’m nominating you for the Starlight Blogger award, yours to accept of not – just wanted to put your blog out further among my friends and readers. Will be posting it shortly this afternoon. Have a happy weekend.

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  4. Pingback: How to Encourage a Fledgling Blogger | Off The Beaten Path

  5. I love your chickens, I do watercolors of hens, my fav are the sussex whites, the deep indigo of their hackles and tail feathers, the light catching their movement. Yours indeed seem happy. we are gorging on french beans at the mo but living in Ireland we don’t get those same spell of warm weather that beans love. Stephanie xx

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    1. I know, right?! My inlaws and husband have strong vehement opinion that both ends MUST be trimmed off otherwise simply not edible. My family (and me) is like, eh why bother. Doesn’t seem to change the taste either way, and tendril end is tender.

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  6. Pingback: As Summer Turns to Fall – BEAN & BANTAM

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