Tuesday, September 24, 2013

weekend escape

On Saturday we went to Index, to help out my in-laws who are replacing their deck, and to generally visit. This is how I always think of Index: the promised land. It's so incredibly beautiful up there - the crisp mountain air, the trees, these gorgeous peaks. We are so very lucky to have family there. I love getting to visit.

Eventually, we ran out of work. The deck supports had been braced with the six available 2x6s, and I'd put a second coat of stain on all the decking boards. I started putting a first coat on some other boards, but then they needed to sit for at least two hours before we could do the second coat.
So, what's a girl to do? Why, strip a branch of the neighbour's quince tree of unwanted fruit, of course! This look of pure joy brought to you by not having to pay $6-per-pound. And childhood nostalgia - we grew up with quince trees, though my parents never harvested the fruit. Still, I love the smell. I used to climb and play in our quince trees, even into my teenage years.

My in-laws encouraged me to go harvest whatever I wanted from the garden, as much as we could possibly take. "We're sick of it," they said. It's been a great year and they were tired of having to pick at this point. I get it, I really do. Even I was feeling this fatigue, earlier in the year, and I didn't have the gardens to tend that my in-laws do.

This is one of their gardens, tucked into a piece of property left vacant since a historic building collapsed during one of the big snowstorms in the winter of 2008. My in-laws live across the street and just till under the soil, add compost, and grow stuff there, since no one else is doing anything with it. It's a beautiful space: tons of dahlias, gladiolas, corn, big pumpkins, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, several kinds of squash, beans, sunflowers (grown for the birds, actually), nasturtiums tumbling everywhere .... and at the back is the sheer rock cliff that locals call the "town wall." (I find the understatement amusing.)
After harvesting we went for a nice family walk together, out through the woods and back along the river. We stopped on the bridge into town and watched the salmon spawning in the shallows. It was pretty amazing to see these noble creatures, who are so important to the culture of our region. They were so far from their ocean homes, and so close to death, returning to the place of their own births to mate and die. The river in Index is so crystal-clear that you can see right through to the stones at the bottom. Already hree silver bodies lay there, motionless. I wonder how many are there now.
Peggy told me to pick plenty of dahlias to bring home - for both myself and my neighbor, who is also a big dahlia fan. This is my half. Aren't they stunning?

I turned a bag of apples (some 10 or 15 lbs.) into a deep dish apple pie and four quarts of apple sauce (I processed three of them and put one quart in the fridge for immediate eating enjoyment).

That pan full of tomatoes that I'm holding in the picture above, combined with all the tomatoes I picked in my own garden in the past week, cooked down to two quarts of thin sauce. It'll need a fair amount of cooking to make a Bolognese sauce or a marinara for lasagna or pasta, so I'll probably actually keep these quarts and use them to make tomato soup this fall. I plan to sauté an onion and some cloves of garlic (chopped), then throw in some stock (probably chicken) and one of these quarts, and cook until it has reduced by half. I'll run the whole thing through the blender to make it smooth, and then add a pour of cream or milk and season with salt and pepper to taste. Maybe I'll even throw in some herbs - thyme, or rosemary. We love tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches in this house.

I'm kind of lazy and don't like to skin or juice tomatoes when making sauce, so I simply cut the larger tomatoes in halves (or quarters), threw them in a pot with a little water, and cooked them until everything was soft. Then I put them through the food processor and blended up the skins with the fruit. I put the puree back on the stove and reduced it by half, then packed it up. These tomatoes were acidic enough that when Cass took a little bit of the puree and added cream to it (to make himself a little bowl of "tomato soup" for dinner), the cream curdled. I probably didn't need to add citric acid to the jars, but I did, anyway (1/2 tsp per quart jar), just to be on the safe side. I processed for 15 minutes in a hot water bath after canning.

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