Jam at Least

I did not do a lot this growing season. I planted garlic last fall and recently pulled that from the ground. But I planted no garden. I never picked strawberries of blueberries. We had no farm share this year. Granted, we were away much of the summer, but still, I put up little. I was no gardener or gatherer.

We did manage to get out to pick apples at least. We picked lots of them, many varieties, from Shelburne Orchards, our favorite orchard. The view alone from that place makes a visit worth it. I have made apple crisp a couple of times, and have enough apples left to make one more. And last weekend I made apple jam.

Blueberry and strawberry and other berry jams get all the publicity. They are good no doubt. Huckleberry or marionberry jam can fill the mouth with deliciousness that is hard to beat. But these past few years my favorite jam has been made with apples.

We have an apple tree at our house but it has been unhealthy and bears little fruit now. When it did offer up fruit I made the best jam ever. Those apples are Red Delicious, your classic apple. I have not liked those kinds of apples typically. They are usually mealy, lacking flavor, with tough skins. They hold up well and can be transported without too much damage but that shelf life takes its toll on tastiness. Red Delicious certainly are red–they usually look great in a pile at the supermarket–but they are anything but delicious. The ones from our tree, however, are some of the best apples I have ever had. When I first tasted a ripe one I understood why the variety became so popular. Unfortunately, that popularity has been costly.

My jam is pretty simple–apples, sugar, lemon juice, pectin, some nutmeg. With good apples it is a sweet treat that makes a mean PB and J, if you know what I’m saying. I took a couple of hours to rustle up eight jars. They are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be stored. That growing season lethargy continues, I guess. I have a jar left from last season and will polish that off soon. Then I will taste this season’s batch. I have no doubt it will be good, and it will last into the winter. I have no potatoes or onions or frozen pumpkin this year, but I do at least have some apple jam. It won’t make a meal but it will remind me of the days when blossoms filled the air with their almost supernatural scent, and of bees, and of fruit heavy on branches.

Maybe next year I will be better at taking advantage of the short growing season, of the wonder of fresh food grown myself, or grown by my neighbors. For now, however, I’ll have to settle for some toast.

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Autumn Hinting at Winter

Rain tumbles against the porch roof. It pours from the upper eave, resonating in the hollow space just outside my wall. It is what you might call a dark and stormy night, if you want to use such an overused expression. In a literal way, it describes things quite well. It has, as is the case this time of year, been dark for several hours. When in the summer we might still be out on the porch reading, now the sun has long set, the air sinks toward freezing, and the warmth of the house tempts us inside.

We keep getting frost. The past two mornings pink and purple washed the sky of darkness, pushing the sun into the day. The frost on the grass and the lingering leaves and the withered milkweed glowed in the morning color. As the days get on, frost lingers in the shadows until the sun finds it and sends it off. Snow has tickled the sky some afternoons. We talk about skiing.

Down by the river there are times when the birds make noise. Afternoons with sun–they like those. They chirp and peep but hardly sing. They have forgotten how to sing, it seems, talking to each other in quiet voices, hiding in the brush, afraid perhaps that winter will find them. Most of them will be gone soon. They will seek the sun.

Yesterday I returned home after a day working and made my way to the hammock I have yet to store for the winter. I lay on my back, looking up at the yellow maple leaves waving in the breeze. The sun, just visible over the house, was too bright. I shaded my eyes, watching the occasional leaf break free and float to the lawn. I almost fell asleep.

Sometimes in the winter I imagine finding a pile of snow and settling in, falling asleep warm in layers of insulation, of lying there while snow falls and covers me, of finding myself in a world of white and slowness and quiet. Some winter mornings I can sit on the porch and feel this way, just looking out at the still white field, no need to find that pile of snow. But it is not winter yet. Color still dapples the hills. The occasional song sparrow still sings. Snow won’t be part of our habits for weeks.

Winter does not arrive to the front door, however. Winter makes her way in through the back door and parks on the couch, eating your chips and flipping through magazines while you stack wood. Who knows how long she has been there before you notice? And once you do, you can’t really ask her to leave at that point. That just wouldn’t be good manners.