Fall seems to be upon us — here’s my evening walk the other night — the colors are changing all up and down the valley, it’s getting dark at a reasonable hour again, and there’s a tell-tale snap in the air. It’s actually beautiful today, sunny and warm, but not blazing hot like it’s been all summer. And yet, I’ve spent the weekend pulling up all the tomatoes, the peppers, transplanting the two “Granpa’s pepper” (a Siberian ornamental with blazing hot fruits), putting up chives and mint in pots, transplanting the geraniums back into their winter windowbox.
They say the snowstorm isn’t coming in until Tuesday, but I don’t trust the weather reports. It feels immanent to me. And since last year and the year before I left the peppers out one day too long, and lost them all to frost, I decided better safe than sorry this year.
Here’s the pantry. The brown colander is ripe tomatoes — I’ve also put up 15 pint jars of my own tomatoes this fall. I often find putting up tomatoes annoying — all that blanching and skinning, but this year I found it meditative. I’ve been running like a chipmunk on a wheel, so two afternoons standing a the kitchen sink, looking out at my garden, cleaning tomatoes — well, it did good things for my spinning monkey mind. The basket is filled with tomatoes I think might ripen up, and the big crock below is filled with potatoes. I’ve never grown potatoes before, and they were good, despite the fact that I probably didn’t water them enough. I got about 15 pounds. The big basket on the cooler is green tomatoes — I made a salsa out of about half of them this morning –green tomatoes, onions, garlic, chiles, mint and parsley — all chopped and salted in the smaller crock where it will sit for a few days before I add some vinegar and can it in pint jars. I’m hoping for an all-purpose Italian salsa since I love that mint-chile-garlic flavor. The beer box and the small basket are full of chiles. The box contains Hinckelhatz and Bulgarian carrot peppers — along with a couple of potatoes for the ethylene gas. I’m hoping they’ll ripen up, then I’m planning to experiment with homemade hot sauce. Those Hinkelhatz are hot — and the few I picked a couple of weeks ago turned red in the bowl on the kitchen table. The cooler contains my beloved Turkish Aci Sivri peppers, as well as the Cayennes — again with a couple of potatoes. The Aci Sivris are the perfect hot-but-not-blazing pepper for drying in ristras, and this year I babied them under row covers and sheets at night and some plastic and they’re beautiful. A foot long, fat, and once they redden up, they’ll be the perfect addition to a year’s worth of everything.
We also bought a pig and a lamb this year, and Chuck brought them home about a week ago. The big boxes of meat always feel like Christmas to me — and Himself teased me as I went into a frenzy, dividing the packages up to be stored in our two freezers (one here, one at his house). Somehow, I seem to have wound up with all the lamb and no pork chops, but whatever, that can be rectified. Aside from knowing we have good clean meat for a year, what I really love is not having to go to the grocery store. Most days, early afternoon finds me looking in the freezer wondering what we’re going to have for dinner — and with the greens and pickles and tomatoes I’ve put up, as well as the potatoes and carrots and onions I have stored — my trips to the store reduce down to runs for beer, or coffee or half and half.
And yet, I do sort of wonder about all this putting up. I like my own food, and I like what I cook better than most any store produce, but it’s also not like the grocery store is closing for the winter. And yet, every summer I find myself, here on the cusp of winter, storing up food in my pantry as though we’re going to be cut off from civilization for months. Some atavistic center in my brain is activated by the sound of geese in flight, by the slant of light as the autumn equinox arrives, by the promise of snow on the air, and I start piling up staples.