Making the colors of summer last year-round

The colors of summer are as pretty as they are delicious and nutritious.

Just as I began to write about the colors of summer, a friend posted on social media about her visit to a local farmers market. In one digital photo, she succinctly summarized what I intended to say.

A cornucopia of vibrant colors from gardening harvests filled her photo. The variety of tomatoes alone captured nearly every hue of an artist’s paint pallet.

Ruby reds, luscious purples, warm yellows, and lime greens took center stage of their kitchen table. The light yellow of summer squash and the ribbed texture of a muskmelon represented the earthen tones.

A perfect emerald cucumber, the variegated rind of a watermelon, and a cluster of fresh basil leaves provided a generous sampling of the locally grown greens. The haul from your gardens, nearby produce stands, and farmers’ markets likely create similar still-life artistry.

Our house is no different, despite not having a garden. My wife does pamper a half dozen potted herb plants sitting on the white enamel top of an inherited old table on our patio.

Our daughter supplies us with all the plump, juicy, and tasty tomatoes that we can use from her garden. Her blackberry plants have produced an abundance of delicious tartness, too.

The half-box of organic fruits and vegetables we get each Monday from our Community Supporting Agriculture program assures that we maintain a healthy, flavorful diet. We also frequent several local produce businesses, mostly operated by the Shenandoah Valley’s Old Order Mennonites.

It that regard, we are reminded of our Ohio home, where we knew many of the Amish and Mennonite vendors personally. Somehow that seemed to make their homegrown offerings all the tastier.

My energetic wife ensures that we celebrate the summer’s colorful bounty all year long. Canning and freezing are in her farmer genes.

When it comes to preserving the downhome goodness of food, we have noticed a difference between living in Ohio versus residing in Virginia. Instead of in spurts, everything seems to come ripe at once in the valley.

One day we are canning peaches and the next day tomatoes. Those jars have barely stopped popping their lids when the sweet corn comes ready, tender, tasty, and delicious. The varieties here are as delicious as our Ohio favorite, Incredible.

We’ve also learned a few new tricks living in a new culture in a new state. We husk the sweet corn, clean it, and cut the kernels straight from the cobs. Neva fills the plastic containers, and when we want fresh corn at Thanksgiving, that’s when it gets cooked and not before.

Apples are next on the list. The sweet tartness of the ginger golds more than satisfy our family’s taste buds. Neva freezes enough for the grandkids, who usually finish off their supply long before Nana can do another batch.

Of course, canning and freezing are a lot of hard work. Sterilizing the jars and lids, cleaning the fruit and veggies, and peeling when required, all take time and effort. Then there is enduring the sauna-like heat at the height of the canning process in our tiny galley kitchen.

The vent fan works overtime, expelling the heat and steam to help cool the temporary cannery. But in the long run, it’s all well-worth every drop of sweat.

Come the cold, dark, dull months of winter, and we will have summer at mealtimes in our household. Those yellows, reds, and greens of the harvest will brighten any dark day and table, and make all of the perspiring worth the effort.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

A simple but sacred sound

canning, strainer
The strainer. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a simple sound, one that would go nearly unnoticed if it weren’t for all the work involved, and the anticipated joy on a cold winter day.

This time of year, the sudden, short, pleasing pop of canning lids sealing brings smiles to the faces and hearts of many folks young and old. It’s as sweet and lovely as the produce stored inside the glistening glass containers.

When I shared these thoughts on a Facebook post, I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate response from friends. Folks across several generations testified to the pleasure and joy this momentary, miniscule explosion instills.

Kelsie, said, “Just a tiny noise, but it implies so much.” Indeed, it does.

“It is the sound of successful accomplishment,” wrote Alexander from Russia. Exactly! That pop is the universal sound of delicious meals ahead. It is the announcement of another happy harvest.

“Love it!” Patty implored. “The sound of a job well done.” Knowing her family, Patty spoke from personal experience.

“Love that sound,” Vernon mused. His family history knows that blessed soothing sound, too.

“It’s always exciting and may be why I put up with the canning mess,” wrote Joanne. Professional, honest person that she is, Joanne pretty well nailed the harvest time celebration.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Canning does have its stresses, though. Just ask Cathy.

“Boy do I worry when I don’t hear one of them,” she commented. “It’s exciting times around here to hear those pops!”

Those weren’t frivolous exclamation points either. A canner experiences great relief upon hearing that barely audible sound above rushing traffic, ornery children, and televisions blaring. Though this tinny ping of a noise lasts but a millisecond, it represents the efforts of months of intensive work and hopeful patience. Ask any gardener.

A lot of planning goes into ensuring a productive, successful vegetable garden. From the time the first seed catalog arrives in the mail mid-winter, gardeners envision what, when and where they’ll plant their seeds and seedlings.

Those who follow the almanac or family tradition have their peas planted by the Ides of March. Given Ohio’s extended winters lately, I doubt those plans played out.

Nevertheless, those who love getting their hands dirty can’t wait to plant those first seeds or set the initial tomato and pepper plants. First, though, comes fertilizing and tilling the soil.

A lot more active verbs follow planning and planting. Collectively, buying, watering, weeding, pruning, husking, peeling, cleaning, cooking, pouring outline the ground to jar process.

For those with truck patches, it’s fun to spot the first ripening tomato. It’s horrid to discover a tomato worm, however. Like it or not, that’s all part of the natural growing process.

The hope for the cunning canner is that the sweet corn, tomatoes and apples won’t all come ripe in the same week. If they do, everything else gets set aside. When it’s time to preserve the canning and freezing commence.

With burners blazing, kitchens quickly heat up often in the warmest weather of the year. It’s a sweaty but necessary price to pay for such sweet rewards.

Jeanne summed up the preserving procedure with these questions and a one-word answer. “Tomatoes? Juice? Pickles? Yum,” she said.

Come January, I just hope I remember all that went into creating a healthy meal of tasty tomato soup, pickled beets, frozen Incredible sweet corn, spicy salsa, and homemade jam. Most of all, I don’t want to forget that satisfying sound that seals the deal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015