Nov 8, 2008
It's transition time at Brightside Acres. A few late-October nights in the twenties and one substantial, if short-lived, snowfall turned the rich tapestry of leaves a nearly uniform brown. Many have already fallen, revealing the smoky-gray limbs of maple and locust and hickory. They appear strangely naked next to the still-clothed oaks.
Last month, I planted a winter garden of spinach, kale, tat soi mustard, four kinds of lettuce, four kinds of garlic, radishes and beets. I'm using a blanket of Remay to protect the seedlings. Three weeks later they are little else. The weather has simply been too dry. Last Monday morning, November 3, I pumped 300 gallons from the spring. By Wednesday afternoon, it had yet to re-charge. The grass is brittle, and made a sound like a crumpling potato chip bag as I walked up the Spring Road to the house.
This week I made marinara from the last of the tomatoes I'd picked green mid-October and left to ripen in a bushel basket. Since the freezer is groaning with squash and beans from the garden, I took out the last of the wild blackberries and made spread, adding as little sugar as possible. For these berries, the right amount was a half a cup of sugar to 13 cups of berries. Over the past several years of cooking with wildgrown fruit, I've discovered that it's quite impossible to know, ahead of time, what the proper ratio of sugar will be--or whether any will be required. Very often I add no sugar to my preserves, spreads, and sauces. The sugar-content in wildgrown foods varies greatly, even among fruit harvested on the same day, because each plant is dealing with unique conditions in terms of nutrients, water, and sunlight. Like every batch I produce, these eight pints of Wildgrown Blackberry Spread are unique.
With the help of friends and neighbors, we've worked our way through about half of the apples picked in September and October, transforming this year's incredible harvest into apple cider, sauce, and essence--which is an extract of apple flavor. This Fall it seemed every apple tree on the mountain was more fruit than leaf. Even the ancient, wizened ones were garbed in the flashy finery of youth, creaky limbs bent double with the weight of so many jewels. A gorgeous, gaudy abundance. Apples the color of garnets, rubies, and coral. Apples the color of peridot, tourmaline, and citrine. Apples that shimmer, opalescent, in the brilliant October sun. Everywhere apples.
When I open the basement door, the heady, floral aroma of apples washes over and through me, cleansing my senses. We'll be making cider for the rest of the month.