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.
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.
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.
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.
- Bonus Sidebar tips for preserves:
- When canning, set up a propane fueled cooking ring outside. This keeps the boiling outside the kitchen, the worst part of canning.
- 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.
- Get the biggest dehydrator you can afford… or that you think you can fill. Use a plug in timer.
- If you end up with too much, consider donating freshly harvested garden produce to your local food shelf.
- 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.