Fall is in the air. The cold descends at night, coating outside in a crisp, white veil of frost. A deceptive way of introducing colder temperatures and preparing us for winter. Still, fall invigorates me; I convert garden produce into a variety of edibles and delights. Tomatoes into salsa, cucmbers into pickles, horseradish roots into, well horseradish. And the list goes on. Tomatoes I find very versatile. From salsa and chutney to tomato sauce, tomatoes are the base for such a diversity of foods. Last year, with the garden abounding in tomatoes, I tried my hand at making sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. While I only got one 500 mL jar from about 5 lbs of tomatoes, each morsel exploded with flavor and tasted out of this world. This year the tomato plants didn’t fare as well and I didn’t have enough to make everything I wanted to. And this year someone in the family planted potatoes. (Personally, I didn’t really want to do potatoes because I didn’t want to be the one digging them up but I digress…kind of). Now the planter is 8 months pregnant and has been ordered on bed rest so it looks like I’ll be the one digging them up after all. She planted them along a fence. In a field. I know where the field is, and I know where the fence is, but that is the extent of it. I’m begrudgingly going to dig up the ones I can find today before the frost turns them all into mush. If it hasn’t already. For many people around these parts Fall means time for the Carp Fair, a local tradition. The Carp Fair is both gardeners’ and farmers’ chance to display their pride and joy – their livestock, their produce, and their preserving abilities. This year I’m entering hot salsa, my maple syrup, maple butter, and a stuffed baby toy (knitted stuffed caterpillar) I made for my brother’s soon-to-be-newborn. (I have a sinking suspicion that if I were to sneak up on Mike and his baby spending quality nap time together, I’d find Mike snuggling with the caterpillar instead of the baby 🙂 ). I had my tags printed off earlier in the week and I’m submitting my entries tonight. They will be judged tomorrow. I don’t mean to boast or anything but my maple syrup is pretty fantastic – it’s got good clarity, color, outstanding flavor. The only thing I’m unsure about is the density. Thick maple syrup is what I grew up on, what I consider to be the standard. But I’ve heard others say that runnier maple syrup with a more delicate flavor is considered to be better. And I think I’m going to have some pretty stiff competition. There are a number of well-seasoned maple sugarers around these parts who know a lot more about making maple syrup than me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. If it turns out runnier is what they want all the better; next year I’ll draw the syrup off earlier and run less risk of my pans foaming over 😛
Usually by this time of year the sun is blazing in all it’s glory. The garden abounding with beans, tomatoes, zucchini and the like, the lawn turning an attractive mustard, burnt color, Ahhh the heat. That is certainly not the case this year. Due to the late spring this season’s harvest seems delayed – by a lot. Both the tomato plants I started from seed in January, as well as the tomato plants that I bought in May have only yielded a handful of produce this year, whereas in other years there have been grocery bags full of ruby red tomatoes of all sizes by this time. After hearing newscasters this winter and spring go on and on about a ‘polar vortex’ that was taking place, and predicting milder temperatures in the coming months I was skeptical. It sounded a bit made up to me, I may have even scoffed a little. Well, it’s time for me to eat my words of disbelief, they may be the only things to ripen this year.
I planted vegetable seeds at the beginning of February. I live in Kanata, Ontario, Canada, hardiness zone 4b. According to Environment Canada, our frost dates are May 12 and October 15. This year has seen a harsh winter and had me pining for warmer weather. Mental images of lush spinach, plump tomatoes and green beans, have influenced me to attempt starting some plants from seed this year instead of buying established seedlings from the store (as well as the desire to save a bit of coin). After 2 weeks of watching dirt being dirt I spotted a few tiny sprouts of spinach vying to make their way into the world. By the end of the next week most of squares in my starter trays bore little sprouts from spinach, cherry tomato, big tomato and cabbage seeds. The fact that all of the sprouts looked remarkably similar, identical in fact had me a little concerned that somehow I’d managed to mislabel the trays, until I read that these first two leaves of a sprout are not in fact “true leaves” but rather “cotyledons”. Whereas cotyledons all look the same, it is the next two leaves that sprout, the “true leaves” that bear a plant’s unique form. I hoarded my little seedlings in front of the sliding doors at the back of the house where they can photosynthesize as much sun as possible. I am eager for them to grow, flourish and nourish my cravings for fresh produce.