I usually find the final few weeks before Labor Day to be weirdly, and almost unbearably, melancholy. The weather starts to gesture toward fall, and the promise of early summer is gone. If you didn’t make it to the beach, will you? All those plans to swim every day, become an expert ice cream maker, and eat ripe berries with abandon either came to fruition, or they didn’t.
This year though, all I see around me is abundance. Right now farms, orchards, and my own garden are bringing me so much joy—they’re the buffer between my brain and the deep uncertainty of our world. The ripe peaches, the gorgeous piles of tomatoes everywhere I turn, the basil overflowing from the planters that once sat on my roof deck in Brooklyn and now look just as at home in my backyard in Vermont.
Then there are the ridiculously expensive golden raspberries I can’t help buying at a local farm stand; their quality of impermanence is actually comforting to me because it’s a reminder that time does keep moving forward, that we won’t be stuck in any one moment forever, and that even if this winter is terrible—again—next summer there will be corn and blueberries.
Living a slower life with more space has taken the idea of stocking up for the winter out of the pages of Little House in the Big Woods and made it real. The chest freezer in the garage is filled with frozen blueberries and cherry tomatoes from the pick-your-own garden at my CSA. They’re destined to become pies and pasta sauce at some point.
Last weekend, I spotted a few cardboard boxes filled with free apples sitting under a tree and pulled a U-turn to grab them. Trimmed of their most egregious brown spots, and cooked down with cinnamon and cardamom pods, they transformed into six quarts of applesauce I can put in school lunches this winter. There’s another tree in the grocery store parking lot that will have even more free apples for us in a few weeks.
We’re just starting in on canning tomatoes, and already the dry storage room in the basement is home to seven quarts and a giant half-gallon jar of sauce. I have some pesto cubes frozen already, but I have a whole new batch of basil that needs to be picked and processed.
Just think what Ma Ingalls could have accomplished with an InstantPot (not to mention running water, antibiotics, and reliable birth control).
My husband and I joke about the slight derangement of our putting up projects, and how it makes us feel capable and certain in the midst of such an uncertain time. We refer to the ruby jars of tomatoes and rosy apple sauce as our “preps.”
But as with all dark humor, there’s some truth there. It does make me feel good to live in a place where we’re so close to our food supply. Our weekly CSA is a choice model—we can pick any eight items from an array of 12 to 15 different vegetables each week, and there’s usually at least one where you can take as much as you’ll use. There’s a limit to how many cucumbers a family of four can eat in a week, but no end to the dilly beans I can pickle and then enjoy later. There’s also a lot of venison in our freezer that a friend gave us last fall, destined to become meatballs.
This has been a strange summer. I don’t dare claim to have figured out how to navigate the ever-changing landscape of living through a pandemic, which is a true thing that is happening to us all, and yet always sounds melodramatic. I will say that it’s become my default to say yes to connection whenever and wherever I can. I spent every second I could with my sister when she visited for the first time in more than a year back in June, leapt at the opportunity to housesit for a friend in New York in July, and have hosted as many barbecues as humanly possible in between.
At the farm stand the other day, I struck up a conversation with a woman, who looked to be in her 70s, about the giant bag of cranberry beans she was buying. They’re a favorite ingredient of mine and hard to find. After she pointed me to their location, tucked in a back corner for the grannies and the eagle eyed, I got her to share her succotash recipe with me. The secret? Butter. It’s always butter. Which is really just another word for abundance.