Monday, August 04, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: August, Week 1

When the cicadas' daily rattling chorus gives way to the gentler whisper of cricket song in the evenings, I know August has arrived, bringing with it increasing reminders that autumn is lurking in the shadows.

It's hard to believe that, though, when the sun continues to roast us or the incessant humidity bastes us with heavy damp air. It's hard to believe, too, that we're nearly halfway through the growing season in northern Ohio.

For when August arrives, it seems as though the local harvest is only just coming into its fullest promise, with a colorful array of fruits and vegetables appearing at the farmers' market each week, each succulent and tempting and lusciously ripe. If I had thought myself unrestrained in passing dollars to my favorite farmers before, in August I lose all control, a mad spendthrift utterly smitten with the beauty of local produce.

But can you blame me? In August, the abundance of crops truly reflects the lush fertility of our region, and it's nearly impossible to resist the pleasures of downy peaches or plump tomatoes that, once bitten, drip their sweet juices down our chins. And who doesn't feel like a carefree kid again when diving into a buttered ear of sweet corn or a slushy slice of rosy watermelon?

I admit it. I'm biased. Though August has no holidays to call its own (save for my birthday, which I like to think is a holiday that -- like Thanksgiving and Christmas -- deserves to be centered on delicious food), it hardly needs such individual days marked on the calendar when every day brings reasons to celebrate. It should come as no surprise that this month is laden with food-oriented festivals in the state, from corn to wine, not to mention the State Fair.

So many good fruits and vegetables are coming into season now that it's difficult to compile a comprehensive list, but here's a sampling of what I've found at my local markets throughout the month in past years:

--peaches and plums
--apples and pears
--melons: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew
--the many nightshades: peppers (both sweet and hot), eggplant, and tomatoes
--more summer squash and zucchini, with winter squash (acorn, butternut, pumpkin) coming in later in the month
--more potatoes
--more onions and garlic, now drying for storage
--most herbs
--the first of the fall lettuce and greens

(And did I mention tomatoes? Because you'll be hearing much more about those soon...)

If every month were like August, we would never question our ability to eat locally on that varied a diet. Unfortunately for us, though, this variety won't last long unless we spend a good portion of the month preserving the harvest for winter.

I know that's a daunting task, and I'm not recommending that everyone drop everything and spend a full work-week over a hot stove. A couple of people have asked me how I manage to get so much put up for winter and how I find the time for it all, since they can't find that kind of time.

Truth be told, I tend to think of food preservation like exercise. If I can squeeze in 15 minutes here to steam, blanch, and freeze one kind of vegetable -- or maybe 5 to 20 minutes there to prep one kind of vegetable or fruit for drying (and then let the dehydrator or oven spend the time doing its job) -- it all tends to add up. And when I think in those smaller time chunks, I can usually get one thing done before work most days and one or two things done in the evening.

Not everything can be preserved so quickly, and I tend to save my canning efforts for wide-open evenings or weekends. No, I don't get out much in the summer (though I've made more free time available this year than in the past). But come winter, having so much stored and prepared will free up my time for dancing nights, movie nights, and visits with friends. That's a pretty good trade-off.

Remember, if you're still fairly new to food preservation, don't lay unreasonable expectations on yourself. Don't drop everything to try and put up tons of food for winter. Just do what you can, when you can. You will find it gets easier.

And you'll still want to take the time this morning to appreciate everything in its freshest moment, whether you pick it from your own Victory Garden or you succumb to the urge to sink your teeth into one juicy plum on the way home from the market. You'll still have time to preserve food -- but don't miss the joy of now.

Don't worry, you'll have time to plan for later, too.

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At 8/05/2008 11:08 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Nice writing, Jennifer, and valuable insights, too. Thanks.

At 8/06/2008 7:09 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thank YOU, Janet! :-)


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