I went out to begin the watering but found myself admiring the abundance of a summer garden. It’s not long ago that I showed you the hopeful beds of March, with their painted signs and tiny sprouts of garlic (which is all harvested and hanging in the woodshed to cure), a little clump of chives, the first crocus — and a lot of bare soil. We’ve had runs of hot weather followed by days of heavy rain and other than producing slugs the size of the late dinosaurs, the results have been pretty fine.
This is the time of year when I realize how swiftly summer passed and that we are now on the long fall into winter. I was in the kitchen and suddenly realized there was a beam of sunlight on the tile floor. 9:33, and the sun has just come up over Mount Hallowell’s shoulder. In full summer, it rises closer to 8 and by this time in the morning, the tomatoes on the upper deck have enjoyed its warmth for more than an hour. Their bounty has been amazing. Most days I pick a big bowl of tomatoes and I’ve pickled five pints of the colourful cherry tomatoes (yellow, orange, red, pink, almost black), made seven pints of salsa, frozen more, eaten bushels out of hand or in salad (caprese is my favourite, esp. when I can find the Natural Pastures Mozzarella di Bufala from the Fairburn Farm water buffalo herd in the Cowichan Valley). Our basil has been glorious. The other day I processed a huge amount of it with olive oil and some of the Georgian garlic I grew this summer and then froze the puree in tart tins (saved year after year for just this purpose). Some people freeze these “basil bombs” in ice-cube trays but I’ve found the little tart tins are more user-friendly. After filling them, I set them on a cookie sheet and freeze them until they’re solid, then tumble them into large zip-lock bags where they’re easy to find in winter when I want to flavour soup or add cheese and pine nuts for pesto. I did twenty the other day and will do as many again today. I’ve also made cartons of pesto to freeze and leaves went into the pickled tomatoes.
So this is the paradox — summer ends but we find ways to extend its pleasures in the dark corners of our freezers or pantry shelves. In winter, to open a jar of pickled cherry tomatoes and say, Oh, remember picking them in early September, remember the heat, remember the tree-frog settled at the roots.
Picking basil and remembering how it grew in olive oil tins on every step on Crete, the scent of it so strong in the early morning, and how it flavoured tomato salads, rich soups, even a rich bread dense with fresh cheese and onions… I find it in Elytis, in his “Aegean Melancholy”:
And how Orion’s gold sword
Is scattered and spilled aloft
Dust from the dreams of girls
Scented with mint and basil!