Garden Diary - August / September / October 2023

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Signs of Autumn

Produce used to be, mostly, a seasonal affair. Strawberries and asparagus in spring, peaches and corn in the summer, and apples in the fall. Nowadays it arrives with frquent flyer miles, year round, from the other side of the equator where seasons are reversed. There are still a few things that remain connected to my locality.

Italian Blue Plums
Wednesday, 30 August 2023

An annual sign of the turn of the seasons - Italian blue plums. Good to eat out of hand, and even better for baking.

Today I baked a plum cake: cut plums in quarters and macerated with honey, butter, lemon juice while I prepared batter, substituting yogurt for sour cream that I did not have. Prepared cake pan, poured in batter, neatly arranged pieces of plums, topped with streusel. Baked. And enjoyed.

There are apples too but I'm not certain if they are this year's new crop. No cider yet so probably last year's cold storage.


Time for Pumpkins and Concord Grapes
Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Halloween is a month and a half away. But pumpkins are glowing in the fields and farm stands.

At the Kingwood Feed and Mercantile, Miller is delightfully color coordinating with pumpkins.

Pumpkins of various sizes and bushel baskets of Concord grapes, all locally grown.

Concord grapes are deliciously fragrant, tasty, tough skinned and very seedy.

They are also excellent for making both grape jelly and grape butter, so I take some home.

And a few days later there was grape jelly to spread on toast, appreciate and enjoy.


Foraging for Juniper Berries
Saturday, 14 October 2023

Foraging is always a pleasure, searching out what nature provides. It is a variable, as weather and growing season change from year to year. This year is superb for juniper berries, the fruit of our locally native old field cedar, Juniperus virginiana.

The trees are what's known as dioecious, that is to say individual trees are either male or female. Males are needed to pollinate, so the females will bear berries. I've been eyeing them as I drive here and there. Not only must the tree, female of course, be conveniently located on reasonably public land, there also need to be branches low enough that I can reach their fruit. I look, and wait for the berries to mature and turn blue-black.

Wikipedia says: "A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales called a galbulus, which gives it a berry-like appearance. The cones from a handful of species, especially Juniperus communis, are used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also give gin its distinctive flavour. Juniper berries are among the only spices derived from conifers, along with spruce buds."

Looking good. Though J. virginiana may not have the largest fruits, not be commercially valued, they're what's available.

So a-foraging I go. It's relatively speedy to collect a reasonable quantity. Wikipedia also mentions that: "They [juniper berries] are used both fresh and dried, but their flavour and odour are at their strongest immediately after harvest and decline during drying and storage." Thinking about this I decide that freezing might be an option. However, since gin is a neutral alcohol flavored with juniper berries

I'll macerate the juniper berries I've collected, but use vodka rather than gin.

Step one (or two, if foraging was number one) is to clean away the bits of tint twiglets and leaf bits.

And as they are cleaned put the berries in a jar and cover with vodka. Let them steep until needed,
which will be for seasoning venison or any other game I might be gifted, or possibly duck or goose.

But these apples from a local orchard are indeed a sign of autumn.

What produce signifies the turn of the seasons to you? Forget Costco's Christmas displays, they don't count.

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