This morning, swimming, I was thinking about vegetables. And fruit. Thinking about what I need to do to with the tomatoes, the basil, the huge stems of rhubarb. I was swimming and thinking and I saw the light on the islands in the distance. John was finishing his swim so I called, Will you take a photograph? Somehow the light has turned from summer’s honeyed gold to something more austere. While I swam, the last of the swallows were dipping over the surface of the water, two of them swooping right over my arms, windmilling me backwards from one grove of cedars to the other, my sentinels.
I’ve made four batches of roasted tomato sauce, filling 3 pans at a time with halved tomatoes, a head of peeled garlic, an onion cut into quarters, and a few branches of rosemary, everything slick with olive oil. When they’re melted and slightly dark on the edges, I put everything in the blender with some red wine, a handful of basil, juice and zest of half a lemon, and puree until I have a smooth ochre sauce. I freeze this in glass canning jars (leaving lots of room for the sauce to expand). It’s wonderful as is on pasta, pizza, and is the basis for bolognese sauce. Defrosted and thinned with milk or light cream, it’s a delicious soup. So there’s lots of that for winter. There are 9 jars of savoury tomato jam, which I think might be really great with cheese and pâté. I also roasted 6 cookie sheets of halved San Marzano and Principe Borghese tomatoes, topped with oil and chopped herbs — rosemary, basil, thyme, savoury, and lots of minced garlic. These get frozen in tubs lined with parchment. These are also wonderful on pizza or as simple bruschetta topping or as a side dish with roast chicken or fish. There are still bees in the tomato plants (which are still blooming because they’re indeterminates) but I don’t expect a late crop. Tomatillos, peppers, and eggplants are doing well in the greenhouse, along with cucumbers, including one I didn’t plant: lemon cucumbers. I grew them years ago but this year I only planted Armenian and Marketmore and so where did these lemon cucumbers come from? A late summer mystery.
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t readyto let go of summer so easily. To destroywhat I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
While I was doing the last part of my slow morning kilometer, I was wondering what to do with the case of peaches I brought home from Sechelt on Wednesday. Jam, yes — and I chopped equal quantities of peaches and rhubarb to mix with crystallized ginger, brown and white sugar, and a dollop of rum; it’s in a big bowl in the porch to sit overnight. Tomorrow I’ll boil it for jam. I also sliced enough peaches to fill two cookie sheets and put them in the freezer. When they’re frozen, I’ll put the slices in bags for winter pies, cobblers, and the trifle John makes every Christmas. Tomorrow we’ll go blackberry picking–for jam and also just to freeze in bags for winter desserts. And summer desserts. When Brendan, Cristen, and their children were here, Brendan asked for his favourite simple ice-cream, one we call “Blackberry Whip”. Put frozen blackberries (or raspberries or mango or, or, or…) in the food processor with a little sugar. Pulse a few times. Then add heavy cream, pulsing until everything has turned to the consistency of ice-cream. It doesn’t freeze well so don’t even think of not eating the entire batch. I think we had it 4 times when those guys were here. (I made other ice-creams with my KitchenAid attachment for Angie and Karna; and Forrest, Manon, and their kids: chocolate, vanilla, and the most delicious ginger…)
Every summer is different. Some are the years of beans. Not this year. Weather, I guess. We have enough to eat every other day but not the mountains of them from years past when I would be filling jars for pickled beans and giving bags away.
So the light has changed, shifted, and so has the weather. It’s cooler, even though the sun is out right now. Our morning swim is in shade.
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her villageas they pulled the flax. Songs so oldand so tied to the season that the very soundseemed to turn the weather.
In July and early August, I’d feel its warmth on my face half-way through my swim, and we’d have coffee on the upper deck when we got home, our towels on the railing and the umbrella up to shade the table. (What was your favourite thing about your visit with Grandma and Grandad, Forrest asked Arthur when we were saying goodbye at the ferry, and he thought for a moment and then replied, The upper deck. I suspect it was Grandad’s chocolate digestive biscuits that made it memorable but the boys were also good helpers with watering and picking tomatoes.)
When I’m preparing food for the freezer or for jam, when I’m thinking ahead to winter, I’m also working to preserve the light, the warmth of the sun that ripens tomatoes, brings the bees, catches my bare shoulders under my straw hat and turns them brown as hazelnuts. Often I am singing as I fill the jars, slice the peaches from their stony heart. If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone, the song all my grandchildren asked for as a lullaby. In the dark room, I’d hold them, their hair damp from swims or baths, singing, All these years and all these roads/Never led me back to you. Songs so old and so tied to the season, sweetly sad departures, the long highway to the ferry, the flights, the drive back over the mountains.
But they do lead back, too. And I’ll be here, with blackberry jam, peach and rhubarb jam bright with ginger, and the summer’s tomatoes waiting.
Note: the lines of poetry are from Karina Borowicz’s “September Tomatoes”.