by Clara Bell
This has been a great year in the garden. My family benefited from the miracle of planting and reaping with what seems little effort. My husband rototilled, my neighbor brought seasoned manure collected from her horses, and I purchased some plant starts. My husband and I installed an irrigation system, so that with water and a resplendent summer sun, we got delicious, copious, sweet melons for several months. There were tomatoes, beets, onions, chard, lettuce and more, but the melons were the big surprise. They tasted better than anything we had ever eaten, other than the tomatoes I was once served from the Crimea; they will stand out in my memory as being better than chocolate.
Not only did the melons taste unbelievably good, they ripened one after the other, so as not to be overwhelming like zucchini that you can’t give away fast enough. We could savor one a day or every other day, since we had my dad and his wife visiting for a month. From time to time, it was a pleasure to gift a melon to the neighbor or to someone who would appreciate it.
The pumpkins also thrived. We were shocked at how large the leaves were. Like elephant’s ears. Then the pumpkins themselves were enormous. I had to throw out a lot of those that could have developed, so that we only ended up with about four in all. Otherwise, we would have had pumpkins spilling over onto the lawn or throttling the carrots and spinach rows.
Melons have the added advantage that they don’t require any processing. You could pickle them, but they are not good candidates for canning. Therefore, you can consume all of them without feeling that you should be doing something more with them, saving them for the rainy, dreary days of winter.
Now, in the middle of October, I recall the canning frenzy. First, tomatoes in marinara for spaghetti. That went in several stages. Some of the jars have basil, others have garlic and onions. It will be fun to see how it all turned out and what I can do better next year. Definitely, I will plant more plum tomatoes. They have less liquid and more pulp. I drank a lot of fresh tomato juice from having processed the beef tomatoes. Tomato soup and aspic were out of the question. My husband does not like tomato soup, any more than he likes the juice. And my least favorite food is aspic, specifically tomato aspic. It conjures up memories of a luncheon at Mrs. Spiegelberg’s when I was a child. It turned me off to anything savory with gelatin forever.
After the tomatoes, there were the pears, the apples, the plums and lots of pumpkin to process. We can look forward to pumpkin and apple pies, to spaghetti with homemade, homegrown tomatoes, to pears in juice, and plum jam. It just might get us through the season ahead that keeps us indoors and when we will need to remember the cloudless days of summer to cheer us up.
We now have to prepare for the rains. It means transplanting sensitive plants into pots, to place indoors or in the greenhouse. It means staining the deck and wooden fences to protect them from the onslaught of daily showers. Some plants need to be pruned and protected from frosts with mulch, leaves, or branches. We say goodbye to the garden, to the prospect of sun, but it is not too sudden. We have something like an Indian summer. We look forward to the fun of Halloween and the fellowship of Thanksgiving and Christmas as the winter sets in. We indulge in memories that these holidays dredge up from long ago, when mom and dad were the center of our universe, when everything was magical and still before us.
The leaves will fall soon. We feel a bittersweetness with the changing of the seasons, all the more poignant with the physical changes as we age and ache here and there. Our own winter lies ahead of us, but we suck every bit out of the spring and summer and onset of fall to live off the memories in the future as we plan to do with our canned goods in the pantry. They may have taken some effort to acquire, but they will warm and cheer us when the time comes.