Starting on the hottest days of the year, I’m likely to be at the kitchen stove in Vermont, with steam rising from pots of boiling water, bubbling fruits, and pickle brine. This activity, which continues until our garden succumbs to frost and the local farmers’ market shuts down for the season, enables us to enjoy the flavors of late summer even on the darkest winter days.
Most years, I start by filling Mason jars with peach chutney and bread-and-butter pickles made according to my late mother-in-law’s recipes. She was a passionate gardener and canner, and it was she who inspired us to start putting food by. She’s been gone for a dozen years, but I think of her often as I work in the garden or ladle hot food into jars.
Our Vermont garden is smaller and shadier than the one she kept in New Jersey, and we have a shorter growing season and considerably less ambition than she had. Still, our garden produces more beans and greens than we can eat while they’re fresh. The surplus greens and some of the beans get blanched and stuffed into freezer bags and used in soups, stews, and other concoctions throughout the winter; the rest of the beans get pickled with dill and garlic.
Wild blackberries are abundant around here, and I pick gallons of them every year. After boiling them with a little lemon juice and sugar, I strain out the seeds and freeze the juice and pulp for making ice cream, sorbet, and sauces.
We don’t have fruit trees, but every August we buy a bushel of peaches to preserve. Some of the peaches go into the chutney, and I slice and dry some to use in granola; the rest are sliced and bagged and frozen for winter desserts. Next week, I’ll pick apples from the old trees at the edge of a nearby field that belongs to friends. We filled a couple of canvas bags with them last year, and the ones that didn’t go into a pie right away were either boiled into apple butter or sliced and dried for granola.
We spend the cold-weather months in New York City, and it’s not as if we couldn’t buy pickles or chutney or greens or fruit there. But there’s great satisfaction to be had from making and eating soup with vegetables that we grew. Desserts made from fruit we picked and put by seem sweeter somehow, and remembering those steamy summer days at the stove in the Vermont makes the winter days seem a little less chilly.