Sampling Summer At Last

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During those days in mid spring when James and I were toiling away in a wide-eyed rush trying to get the garden ready for planting something — anything — and we were running so depressingly behind schedule, I did not have the fortitude to imagine scenes like the one below (or the one above if I’m honest). The past two weeks have meant a lot of harvesting and canning for us and I’m beginning to struggle to keep up! What you see below is just a typical morning’s haul from the garden — a particularly invigorating one since we finally got an ounce or two of rain after going more than two weeks with nary a drop! I’d like to point out how irritating it is for me, as a gardener, when I hear people going on at length about how weeks without a drop of rain is “such great weather”. Makes me want to tape a “kick me” sign to their back! I went out to the garden, optimistically, with a large bowl to gather what I thought would be a few more tomatoes to add to the batch awaiting the canning pot. Instead, I found myself making two trips to get it all in!

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It wound up being veritable who’s who of the summer garden! In the back row (left to right): pumpkin-shaped Rosso Sicilian Tomatoes, Cream Sausage Tomatoes (the yellow plums), and a few heavy Italian Heirloom Tomatoes. In the middle row (left to right): Opalka Tomatoes (the red plums), yellow-white and green striped Fish Peppers, plump Amish Paste Tomatoes, and some red-ripened Black Hungarian Peppers. Finally, in front (left to right): red-and-green King of the North Peppers, bright and sunny Garden Sunshine Peppers, some cheery Banana Peppers, and a handful of Jalapeno Peppers.

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That Italian Heirloom tomato, above, weighed in at 1.63 pounds — not a world record, but definitely the heaviest tomato I’ve ever grown. And those pictures of chili peppers? Those are two different harvests! We are swimming in chiles, right IMG_5519about now, and I’ve learned the hard way that I should always wear gloves when processing spicy or even “medium” spicy peppers. It’s a long story involving two separate evenings when — for hours after I’d finished in the kitchen — my fingers felt like they were on fire. Trust me, put on some gloves and you won’t be sorry!

I’m not complaining by any means, but I’ve spent many hours already canning up immense batches of tomatoes, tomato sauces, salsa, and pickles of mind-boggling varieties. So, when I keep carrying all of this garden loot into the kitchen, I do so with mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m so happy our garden has had some success even in its first season. On the other hand, each bucketful of tomatoes means a commitment of time and effort in the kitchen to carefully preserve them for later when we’ll need all these tasty, cheerful reminders of summer’s bounty. I’m finding myself looking forward to autumn when my time in the kitchen will be more voluntary and leisurely!

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The garden is a wild place, these days — a mess of vines, tendrils, blossoms, fruits, good bugs, bad bugs, spiders, moles… I am but a visitor there, observing and tending when I’m able. Summer’s pace is not sustainable for us and, thankfully, not for nature either! In its frenzied way, summer can sometimes exhaust me, laughing off my futile efforts to bring a sense of order to even this small bit of square footage. When I finally stop trying, I realize it is an awfully beautiful time to be outside.

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Zinnias are guardians of garden inspiration, I believe — if not for everyone, at least for us. Their blooms last for more than a week in some cases, changing colors, changing shape, never letting on that they’re fading at all. Effortlessly, they make you feel like a master grower when all you really did was plant a seed and stand back. They’re excellent as cut flowers, too, as James (our budding amateur florist) can attest. He made a cutesy, low-profile arrangement to brighten up the table for some recent special guests we were hosting. The zinnias and sunflowers really put on a show!

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I’ve also been delighted to finally see some blooms from the Bachelor’s Buttons and Sea Shell Cosmos popping up around the garden. I’ve been dazzled, as usual, by the cosmos (one of my all-time favorite flowers). This particular variety has a unique shape with tubular petals that thrill the visiting hummingbirds. Meanwhile, we’ve got more than just the common blue Bachelor’s Buttons in the center garden. These are some very exciting colors! So far, I’ve only managed to get pictures of the interesting white ones with colored centers, but there have also been some solid, jewel-like blooms that were cobalt, magenta, and even maroon!

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And, of course, when I’m not busy staring at these cherished flowers or stirring a steaming, simmering cauldron of tomatoes, I’m usually trying to come up with quick and impromptu ways of tasting bits and pieces of summer in the here and now. We had two particularly tasty meals, recently: 1) Garden-Fresh Chicken & Rice (recipe from Cook’s Country) which featured some of our Golden Zucchini, Blue Jade Sweet Corn, and Yellow of Parma Onions; 2) a summery lunch of Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas and a bowl of Corn & Fingerling Potato Chowder (recipe from Cooking Light) featuring our fresh basil, thyme, and Cream Sausage and Opalka tomatoes (we’re still waiting for the first of our Golden Bantam Sweet Corn).

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With the Autumn Beauty sunflowers nearing their peak — delighting goldfinches and starring in table arrangements — we’re now seeing blooms from the giant Mammoth Grey sunflowers. Some of the plants are at least ten feet tall and their blooms are at least twice the diameter of the Autumn Beauties. Even though they don’t have interesting color variations, I love gazing into these blossoms and trying to soak in all of summer’s warmth and light beaming from their cheerful faces.

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IMG_5593We’re officially in that part of summer when it would be easy to believe that summer never ends, that winter is just some distant memory or legend. Yet, even as I stare into the face of a sunflower framed by a sapphire sky and feel the sun beaming down onto my shoulders, I can already see that autumn is on its way. The bees are buzzing about it, the garden is readying itself. If you listen closely, you can hear it approaching in the rustle of leaves high above in the trees. There’s a faint smell of it in the air and I have to admit a secret longing for it even now as summer has taken up residence in the kitchen. Sample summer while you may!

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~ by Jason on September 5, 2012.

14 Responses to “Sampling Summer At Last”

  1. Holy cow, that BOUNTY! How amazing and wonderful. I wish I could visit your garden; I would never leave. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

      I try to spend as much time in the garden as possible, but it gets to be challenging since I’m such a shade-seeking creature. There have been some days, this summer, when I pity the plants, sitting out there baking in the relentless sun. Apparently, they enjoy it far more than I do.

      • Hahaha! So very funny… I’m a Scotch-Irish girl in South Florida. I know FULL well the shade-seeking intent! In fact, I have a post in process (how synchronous!) on my cloudy walk yesterday; I’m always seeking the clouds! But of course I understand why the lovely plants need it. πŸ™‚

  2. Unbelievably beautiful!! How will you eat all those veggies?? You know, you can cut peppers in half, take the seeds and put them in a plastic bag and freeze them for later use in spaghetti sauce or chili or whatever.
    Love you both, Mary Lou

    • Love you too, Mary Lou! πŸ™‚

      We’re eating them as much as we can in recipes throughout the week, but I’m doing a mix of canning, drying, and freezing to save the rest. Of all three methods, it would figure that I enjoy the most labor-intensive (canning). But, I do like the assurance of not needing electricity to store the canned stuff.

      This past winter, going without electricity for almost a week with temperatures well above freezing outside made me reconsider how much I freeze versus can. We had to bury all of our frozen foods out in the snow (which was rapidly disappearing) and hope for the best. We lost some of it, some of it was fine, and some of it was fine-but-not-so-great because it had partially thawed. Ugh! Of course, a generator might be in our future at some point… but definitely not for a while.

  3. Hey my sweetheart. Oh I am so thankful your garden is so beautiful and tasty. Since I can’t be there this time, I’m glad you have these pics and you’re canning for me to taste all of it while I’m there. Are you going to dry any veggies and flowers? πŸ™‚ I love and miss ya’ll.

    • Love ‘n miss you too, mom!

      We’re not drying any flowers, this year, but that’s a neat idea I’d like to try sometimes… or maybe James would like to try that since he’s more “florally inclined”. But, we are drying lots of peppers and I’m planning to include some of that kind of stuff with our Christmas packages, this year (especially to make up for having no cherries or peaches, this year). The dried peppers would be good for homemade soups and stuff! πŸ˜€

  4. Such a wonderful crop! And the flowers are so beautiful! I can relate to the mixed feelings. My freezers are full and still more coming in everyday. I do not enjoy being out in the sun either. I try to do as much as I can in the evenings before the bugs don’t get too bad.
    It’s still worth the effort when we get eat it. There is nothing better than fresh picked food!

    • You’re right… the effort is definitely worth it in the end. I was especially relieved to hear James agree, recently, after I’d spent the better part of a day making a really tasty pasta sauce and putting it in pint jars. He reminded me that we’ll look back on this hot, sweaty, and tired day sometime in February, when we pop open one of those jars and taste the fruits of our labors as fresh as the day they were harvested. It’s true… but it can sometimes seem like a tiring cycle while you’re in the midst of it: planting in the spring, canning in the summer, harvesting and canning in the fall, eating and getting chubby in the winter (all the while dreading the approach of spring when it’ll begin anew). Sometimes you take a step back from it and realize how crazy and superfluous this seems to some people… you don’t agree with them, but you can suddenly see how they draw their conclusion! πŸ˜€

      • We have had so many people ask us why we bother with doing all that. Until you start sharing. πŸ˜‰
        Then they clue in.

        I have always been a little afraid of home canning. (Of making everyone sick!) That’s why I tend to freeze most things. I’d want to be more adventurous and try new things. Maybe this year will be the year I conquer fear number 112. LOL! πŸ˜‰

      • Canning, to me, is a little like baking: the recipes are very strict and you have to be very careful about tampering with them. But, once you learn what the separate ingredients do in the recipes, you learn how to make changes that improve things rather than ruin them.

        If you don’t already own a few hundred books on canning, I could recommend two that are both educational and inspiring: 1) Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt; and 2) You Can Can by Better Homes & Gardens. Both of them break down the scary technical stuff and show you the ropes and then they’re full of customizable recipes too. A lot of people are afraid of canning because of botulism (especially since it’s a colorless, odorless toxin), but — when you learn the ins and outs of canning and get some practice under your belt — you realize how lax you would have to be in the kitchen to actually create that kind of dangerous situation. The reality is that canning has become safer and safer over the years. Methods that were potentially dangerous have been replaced by newer, safer ones. And, besides, I just LOVE opening up a pantry and seeing all those jars full of colorful, tasty stuff!! πŸ˜€

      • I am going to give it a go, thanks! When our red peppers are ripe we are going to make jelly. πŸ™‚

  5. Looks like you have gotten an abundance of vegetables from your garden. Hard work and effort does pay off with rewards. I hope you and James enjoy your harvest and all those flowers.

  6. You have the greatest posts! I LOVE late summer harvest and all the colour, scents and abundance. And canning is immensely satisfying when you’ve grown the contents yourself.

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