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.

Artificial Change of Seasons

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We finished our fall clean-up so we could leave for our 5-6 week fall stay in Florida. We do it every year so I would think I would easily adjust but this year we were cleaning out the flower bed before we got much of a taste of fall in Michigan. The trees were just beginning to change and we experienced only one week of the glorious cooler days with lots of sunshine and low humidity that lets us know the season has changed. I went to the farmer’s market for vegetables to made salsa for canning. I experienced the bliss of pealing and chopping tomatoes, dicing peppers and onions, adding spices and vinegar, and then having the smell waif through the house as it boiled down before putting it in jars and processing it. I also canned a few jars of tomatoes for pasta, chili and soups throughout the year. I used roma tomatoes this year and the filled and processed jars were so beautiful. Apples were being picked so I bought some of my favorite varieties to make mixed apple applesauce to freeze for quick and easy side dishes. These are my normal routines that have been consistent for over 50 years. But this moving from north to south doesn’t seem normal (in spite of doing it for nine years) – it feels like we are messing with Mother Nature.

We returned from our 5-week trip to the west coast to a mostly spent flower garden. When I saw it I was ready to have the dying stems cut down, to clean up and make everything tidy for the long dormant season. I advocated for Jim to spare the coriopsis and sedum because the bees and butterflies were so busy around them – but then was so distracted by the discomfort of a molar I had removed on Tuesday of that last week that I don’t know if or when he cut them down. One ritual that we never miss is our annual discussion about when to take down the purple porch swing to transfer from the front porch to the back of the garage. How silly it is, but important, that I want to have the swing there for each and every beautiful fall morning when I feel compelled to soak up as much sun as I can; protection from the long, grey, frigid winter – that I escape for the sunshine state.

Florida is hot and steamy this October. I don’t think the weather here has made the transition to fall – but only full-time residents seem to know when fall begins and ends. Maybe they mark this change of season by the fall merchandise that shows up in the big-box stores. It sure looks like summer outside, but I bought a wreath for the front door with fall flowers and brightly colored leaves. The only leaves that drop here are the bald cypress and I don’t think they turn to a bright color. Southern Florida is evergreen and ever-growing. Any celebration of the change in season feels vicarious to me. Fall is that hurricane season when the temperature is lower than summer and before the season when hoards of snow-birds and tourists arrive. Maybe the snow-birds bring down the concept of a fall season with colorful leaves, orchards with red apples being picked and hayrides on very cold nights – much colder than the 78 degrees F. we had last night.

And I’m out of sorts either because my mouth isn’t normal or I’ve crossed Mother Nature – nothing serious but just uneasy. I’m doing the tasks that need doing but doing them with a heaviness of spirit. I’m piecing cheerful throws, or quilts, for the guest bedroom – a project that I started several years ago. I’m undecided whether they will be throws folded at the end to be opened for more warmth on cooler nights or whether I will make them twin size to use as the main cover. It will probably depend on when I get tired of piecing and whether I want to pay to have the twin size long-arm machine quilted.

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I think I will use the piecing of this quilt as a time of contemplation. I have withdrawn socially in the past few months but this quilt pattern suggest how we are all braided together, our lives are intertwined. I need to think about this as every day seems to bring news of the death of someone in my past – so many deaths creating voids. But that’s another blog.

 

An August Morning

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We, Julie and I, haven’t been out on a photo shoot for about three weeks, but this week we knew right where we wanted to go, the Haehnle Sanctuary that is operated by The Michigan Audubon Society. I know right where it is, on a country road I traveled down hundreds of times as a child and adolescent because my Grandma had a cottage on a lake just beyond the sanctuary. I know how to get there – but somehow the road changed and all of a sudden we were at a land fill, on a dirt road. But I’m proud and stubborn and didn’t just retrace my tracks – no, that would be too easy. Instead we took the loooong way there.

But what a beautiful morning it was. It was very humid but I tolerated it because in exchange the sun was covered by a gauzy overcast and there was no wind. The wildflowers seemed gentle, almost ethereal. Except for the occasional fly biting my ankles that grabbed my attention, I spent an hour engrossed in the world around me.

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Everything around me said it is late summer – the colors of the grass seed heads covered with dew, the haze over the marsh making the trees on the horizon a muted green, the grasshoppers, the ripening apples on the very old tree, and the flowers that are blooming.

I always look forward to the cooler days, lower humidity, changing colors, and nights cool enough to warrant flannel sheets. But right now I’m not ready for the change of seasons. All of a sudden it seems like time is moving too fast and I feel a pleading deep within me for it to slow down. I am enjoying my very being and all the fun things I’m doing. Maybe I’ll look for the replay button for today.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

What I love about living in the north are the changing seasons that are so dramatic. In Michigan, nature is a “drama queen”. In southern Florida there is some change in the weather, including hotter weather and more rain in the summer, that results in different flowers blooming. But everything continues to be green. People say the heat is pretty dramatic in the summer and of course there are¬†hurricanes – but not dramatic changes in how things look.

What did mark some changing of the seasons from fall to winter was decorations going up. This is in front of Palm Cottage, recorded with by the National Historic Society as the oldest house in Naples, Florida. The beach is just one block beyond here.

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If you are viewing this in December, you have to admit that the WordPress snow is quite impressive falling over the palms.

To see more posts and participate in this challenge, go to:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/weekly-photo-challenge-changing-seasons/