The last days of summer

(image heavy post warning)

I looked at the (sadly ornamental) cherry tree in the front yard this week, and worried that its leaves were yellowing – some kind of deficiency, I thought. But it’s only a deficiency of summer, and all around me the leaves are starting to turn – the oaks, the Virginia Creepers, the plums and apricot. Summer is escaping, and as proof I’m typing in my trusty ugh boots.

gratuitous purple veggie shotI can’t get too sad about it, autumn brings the best eating of the year with the lush overblown end of the summer crops – tomatoes, giant zucchinis, eggplants, okra.

Our tomatoes were disappointing this year, apart from the plague of volunteer yellow cherry tomatoes. They’re a bit of a disappointment in themselves, being 98% seed and 2% bitter skin. They’re OK dried slowly in the oven, or in a salad. Just OK. Barely OK. I had been hoping to preserve a tomato sauce in the Fowler’s Vacola I borrowed from Ampersand Duck’s Best Beloved, but I’ll need to go and buy a box of proper tasty tomatoes from the markets to do that. Fortunately the Autumn weather is more conducive to keeping a huge cauldron bubbling away than the 40 degree days of early February.
Googling around for Vacola wisdom, I found this from Mountaingirl’s Musings in October last year:

I think I have worked out why the tradition is dying – and it isn’t that the preserving is hard, or that tinned fruit is so plentiful, it is more a case of buying fruit negates the purpose of preserving it to a large extent. And with smaller land parcels, and busier lives, few of us have the orchard in the back yard so access to “free” fruit is virtually eliminated.

Canberra, or at least the inner north where I live, has abundant fruit trees. Our rented house has a plum, apricot, crab apple and pear (which bore a record two four fruits this year). The best year we had for apricots was when we tied a kid’s swing on one of the branches. It seems that the stress on the tree helps it fruit heavily, but it’s an old tree and not yet recovered from the loss of all the dead wood we had to cut out last year.

Still, I have managed to put up a few things for winter. Chutney, sauce and pickled plums made from yellow-fleshed and blood plums for comparison purposes. A lone bottle of apricot sauce. Peaches, rhubarb and more plums in the freezer. Fortunately once people know you like preserving, they’re willing to share. It saves them another night of bottling until 1 am.

I think your chances of throwing together a good pantry dinner are greatly increased when there are a few jars of pickles and sauces tucked away. There are some things I always have – Fuchsia Dunlop’s sweet aromatic soy sauce and Just Hungry’s “Japanese flavour essence“. In the fridge at the moment are tiny pickled turnips, preserved with a few batons of beetroot to colour them intensely pink like the Turkish pickles I love. A big fat jar of preserved lemons,always. A jar of cumquats pickled to Stephanie Alexander’s recipe in the out of print “Feasts and Stories” that we ate last weekend with a Wessex Saddleback pork forequarter braised in milk. I lived in Brazil once, where I first ate quince paste with soft farm cheese, which they call “Romeo e Julieta”, and the huge pile of scrumped quinces is heading that way.

So instead of feeling glum about the tomatoes, I collected together some pictures of my store-cupboard treasures, from this summer and seasons past. Clicking on any of the thumbnails will enlarge the image.


22 thoughts on “The last days of summer

  1. Zoe, don’t lament too hard about your apricot – they fruit well every second year. I love your year in photos. One day I’ll be organised enough to cook again…

  2. Ah, I love preserving and can only too well relate to being up until 1am, but like Mountaingirl, I will only do it when the fruit is free and all my trees are babies. Lucky last weekend I scored some of Colonel Duck’s Meyer and Lisbon lemons and they’ve been safely packed in salt with a star anise, cinnamon and bay leaves. Alternate shades of pale yellow and orange butter, what could be prettier?

  3. If I lived closer I’d be coming to steal those pickled quinces.

    My Mum’s ever reliable lemon tree wasn’t this year. The fruit were tiny, and the DPI insisted on spraying every fruit tree in her suburb for fruit fly several times, so there weren’t very many safe windows for picking. They’d all been on the tree too long and it was all terribly disappointing. We moved too late to plant a garden this summer, and I was particularly glad I hadn’t bothered when the heat wave rolled around, and the one plum tree at the new house panicked and dropped a whole lot of green sour fruit on the ground, along with it’s leaves, a month ago. Some of the street trees around here are apples, but they all panicked in the heat too. So my summer crop so far has been one tomato in a pot, and some mint. We’re hoping to redeam ourselves by planting in the next few days.

  4. Crit, it’s pretty sad – this was the apricot’s “on” year. Sorbet was more of success – it tasted even better than it looked, particularly when it had been a 40 degree day.

    Kate, it’s just thinking and planning time! We spent yesterday ripping out the vile yellow tomatoes and digging in cow poo, blood and bone and the “matter” that was at the bottom of the chook shed. Oh, and dividing artichokes. Just winged it, and hope it works. Any artichoke experts out there who want to give me a few tips?

  5. They just grow, or they don’t. Can’t offer advice as to why. I do think they love water. BTW, you do mean the beautiful globeys that I saw at yours, not the evilly abundant Jerusalem fartychokes, don’t you?

  6. Ah, and I’ve just noticed you do the vanilla bean thing in your apricot jam too … that’s my secret ingredient and all. Also works in strawberry jam.

  7. Yum yum yum!

    We’ve discovered this year that we have an ornamental quince tree (it has about 4 quinces ripening on it now), I gather they don’t fruit reliably, but can still be added to other preserves with good effect. Too bad we haven’t got anything to add them too at the moment. Though maybe a Sunday afternoon trip to the markets…

    We also have a prolifically producing lemon tree but I’ve never thought of preserving lemons. What do you use them for?

    And what about pickled cumquats? We have cumquat marmalade and brandied cumquats in our cupboard (with thanks to my grandfather), but I’ve never heard of pickling them. Sounds interesting…

  8. Preserving lemons is so easy. Take 10, cut them into quarters, mix them up with 250 grams of good quality salt, shove them and the salt into a jar (arrange them to look pretty and all) and seal the lid and set aside for a month.

    Then you can shred the lemons and add a piquant touch to any roast or stewed lamb, fish, chook, on top of pizzas, in pasta sauce, with feta and silverbeet, in chick pea stews, in tomato-based sauces, on appetisers, in ricotta, savoury custards, quiches.

    Zoe’s pickled quinces are about the nicest things you’ll eat, especially with pork stewed in milk, which is certainly one of the nicest things you’ll ever eat. But I don’t know how to make them.

  9. The absence of free fruit in my backyard is one of the reasons that I yearn to move out of the ‘city’ to a place where I can grow lots of fruit trees (and veggies) in order to do all the preserving etc…. Of course, Mum and Dad had a successful fruit orchard in our backyard when I was a kid – in Canberra – so I guess moving out of town is not the only option.

    At least my tomatoes are finally thriving this year.

  10. Yes, globe artichokes. Do they need to cure a bit after you’ve divided them before planting or can I go crazy straight away?

    And it was cumquats with the pork. Try the brandied ones as a condiment with fattier types of meat, eg pork and lamb.

  11. No, just go crazy, they are delicate little things. Keep the water up to them!

    Of course it was cumquats, my bad, I mistakenly called them quinces, when I meant that!

  12. Thanks Dr Outlaw, I am going to have to try that with the lemons.

    As for the brandied cumquats Zoe, we usually have them with cream and ice cream. yummy. I never thought of having them with something savory.

  13. It’s great to see all the things you’ve put away. It’s a shame about the tomatoes. You did better than me though. I over-wet the germination box and didn’t get any tomatoes at all! We haven’t got our uggs out yet, but it won’t be much longer I fear.

  14. arrrrghhghghgh stop with all the beautiful photos! they make me feel jealous and inadequate. but in a totally supportive way 😉 seriously, if anyone breaks into your house and steals all the stone fruit produce, you’ll know who to blame. gorgeous.

  15. A brilliant piece of writing. One can only hope that one day the local mainstream print media will report on this hidden gem.

  16. Four pears, eh? I got two. Lucky you.

    Bastard parrots ate all our plums over night. What will you do with your crabapples? Mine are just about to turn pinkish. I’ll miss the fruit trees when we (inevitably) move onto the next rental place and wanna take at least something from here with me.

  17. I made a big jar of crabapple jelly but ended up not using much of it – not jam/sweet spread eaters (marmalade is different, of course) but used it to glaze a couple of fruit tarts.

  18. Fellow marmalade lovers down here. Jam, yeah, I can give or take.

    I’ve still got jars of Meyer lemon marmalade from the last place we lived in and love it. Shall glaze tarts etc when my jelly’s put up. Lovely post, Zoe.

  19. Pingback: A better kind of lemon chicken | Progressive Dinner Party

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