Living in the Age of Covid-19: Preserving Late Summer Harvest

We have had another week of hot temperatures, around 90 f requiring our air conditioner to be on so I can sleep well at night. It feels like an end-of-summer hot, with the lawns drying, the leaves on the trees loosing their robust green color of earlier summer, and the sounds of the birds and insects changing. Sometimes the only bird call is an occasional caw of a crow diverting my attention from the cicada high humming in the background. When I start complaining about the heat, our daughter who is working from our home to escape the Covid-19 and intense summer heat of southern Texas starts to give me a detailed description of what ‘hot’ really is – like the fat just under her skin starting to boil. Next week is suppose to be in the 70’s with nights in the 50′. I am ready for the cooler weather of late summer/early autumn. I think we will make some soups.

I have been going to 2-3 farm markets a week, coming home with bags of fresh produce. Yesterday I bought 10 lbs. of beets and we processed them into pickled beets. Today we are going back for more. I went to the farmers’ market downtown last Friday with a list of foods we needed to make pickles and salsa. As I was finishing up and eager to get away from people milling around me, I remembered that this farmer had said he would have beets that day. I looked down the tables and saw them at the end. I hurriedly pick up two bunches, paid and was on my way. The next day Sharon started cleaning them to put in the pressure cooker and became confused by some of the characteristics – like the smell of onions from the tough greens and the white in the center of the cut ends. We discovered I had bought radishes, big radishes.

Luckily I didn’t buy 10 lbs. and Sharon used some to make okroshka, a very delicious cold Russian soup with cucumbers, radishes, potatoes. She ate it when she was living in Kyrgyzstan and has been working to perfect the recipe. I had it when I visited her there and I think she has replicated it well. That used a little of the radish. I was making sweet pickle relish for canning so she decided to make a radish relish substituting radish for cucumbers and including shredded carrots and onions. It is so beautiful in the jars, but we haven’t tried it yet. Best of all, this “beet” purchase gave us a hearty laugh.

We are feeling joy and embracing the decadence of having lots of locally grown fruit in the house. Blueberries are at the very end of their season but oh how great it has been. I started buying two quarts at a time, the next week I asked for three quarts and the farmer explained that a five pound box is a better deal. Sold! The next week I bought a 10 lb. box and went back an hour later with the empty box and bought another. I froze some, made a couple of pies and a cobbler, and we ate them on cereal and in bowls with creamer. Oh, and we ate them by the handful – all day long. I am still buying them but only one quart at a time because they go bad because it is at the end of their season. But that is okay because the peaches started coming three or four weeks ago so every day we have peaches with our blueberries. Now pears are just starting to ripen so we are having blueberries, peaches and pears for our supper treat.

We are having great fun preserving the produce we have been buying at various farmers’ markets. Sharon chose to take her portion to the kitchen in the basement instead of putting them in boxes and stacking them in the corner of the garage. I totally understand the joy and satisfaction she experiences every time she comes out of her bedroom and sees them. They will be headed for Texas as soon as she sees evidence that the Covid-19 virus is under control enough to feel safe to return.

Thus far we have canned (from left to right) her radish relish, sweet pickle relish, sour cherries, dilly green beans, pickled beets, corn relish, salsa, and in the back ketchup and blackberry jam. This week-end we are going to can tomatoes and make another batch of salsa. I think we may also can some peaches for her – or I will put our excess ones in the freezer before I go to get more from our favorite fruit farmers on Tuesday.

It has been many years since I have done this much canning and it feels so perfect as an anecdote for the times we are experiencing. I am learning a lot from my daughter who is a free spirit when working with foods – and we work really well together so the job seems to be completed in about half the time. It is nice to find a silver lining in the midst of the pandemic, and having Sharon here with us to enjoy Michigan’s bountiful harvest is one that I am going to embrace without guilt.

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