Friday, November 15, 2013

Autumn Preserving

 I have been reading a fun book entitled 'The Magic Apple Tree' by Susan Hill. It chronicles a year of seasons in rural England in the 1980's. I have been enjoying this book all year, as I have read her descriptions of each season while delighting in our own. I just finished her last section, which was Autumn. She describes Fall cooking, canning and preserving, and I was struck how pleasant, warm and old-fashioned her ways were even as recently as the 1980's. Susan Hill preserved a lot! and used it all and gave some away. She knew the secrets of using what was free and at hand. I thought I would quote a bit out of the book to show you what I mean.
"In the kitchen, autumn is my favourite season, because it is preserving time-jams and jellies, chutneys and pickles, fruit butters and cheeses, and the whole, glorious session rounded off with the making of the mincemeat....We make savoury jellies, and the base of them all is plain, apple jelly. First chop your apples, (they were all freely given in her village) peel, core, pips and all. This takes ages, but like the chopping of ingredients for chutney it is a soothing task. Put this into a preserving pan with one pint of water to every 2 lbs of apples, and simmer till soft. Stir and press with a wooden spoon often. Preserve-making takes up whole days, with bouts of hard work, and minutes of stirring gently, scattered over long periods of waiting, during which I read a book that doesn't mind being broken into every so often, or write a few letters, or go out to pick some ripe elderberries from the tree on the other side of our garden, for tomorrow. And friends drop in for cups of tea and wasps are slaughtered and the telephone is answered, and I go outside, just to stand in the sunshine and look about. It is all very pleasant.
When the apple pulp is ready, it goes into that wonderful contraption, the jelly bag. I hang this on a stout hook from the beam over the fireplace and put a giant saucepan underneath it. This will drip away for a good twenty-four hours. During preserving week, it becomes a friendly, familiar sight, full of various fruit pulps. (When the apple juice is ready) it is measured and put into the preserving pan, with 1 lb of sugar for every pint, and then two tablespoonsful of lemon juice plus whatever herbs I am using are added. You can make fresh basil, marjoram, thyme, mint, sage or tarragon jelly, adding half a dozen or so sprigs, freshly picked from the garden."

 When it was time to pick 'bramble berries', or as we know them blackberries, to make jelly this is her description: "This was a difficult year for brambles, I discovered. There were enough, but not so many that I didn't have to work for them. I climbed and clambered and delved, got scratched and stung-that is all part of the job, of course. But when I wriggled on my stomach under a wooden fence and my top became thoroughly entangled in some old barbed wire, it was not so jolly after all. Then several cows came and stared down at me reflectively, and the dog ran in anxious circles, while I went into contortions trying to free myself. I got very hot and cross and then knocked over the basket of berries, before finally extricating myself by pulling hard- and rending my top. Still,....brambles should be free-but not easy. At the end of the day, I am stung, scratched, sore and stained, and the kitchen smells marvelous. There are rows of glowing jars on the dresser shelves, like so many jewels, deep red, orange, burgundy, pale pink, pale green, and purple-black. I gaze in deep satisfaction, and I feel as if we shall indeed be preserved against the ravages of this coming winter, and go off to have a long, hot, soothing bath."

 Another thing that struck me as I read this section in the book, were the amazing varieties of things she preserved. They canned everything...much, much more than we do, or at least than we do now. She canned crabapples, elderberries, quinces, gooseberries and the like. She could get them free for the picking, and did just that. She lists: preserved quinces as well as quince jam, various types of chutneys including apple, green tomato and elderberry, mincemeat, crystalized plums, spiced pickled plums, plum orange and walnut jam, canned damson plums, damson plum cheese, crabapple jelly, bramble jelly, bramble and apple puree, and elderberry apple jelly. I also noted that all of these are really accompaniments not necessarily main items like our canned fruits and vegetables. I think we as American women used to can and preserve some of these things too, but as they are a lot of work it fell out of favor as we have such an abundance of items to buy that we no longer have the NEED. I loved reading about how much she enjoyed her work and looked forward to it every year. This quote sums up how she felt about it: "Then, I wash up the preserving pan, bowls, knives and wooden spoons, and put them all away until next autumn, and make a pot of tea, and sit feeling entirely contented, and rather smug. Over the next months, the jars of jelly and jam and chutney will be opened and eaten, and given away to friends for Christmas, and taken as contributions to the harvest festival and the autumn produce sale and the school Christmas bazaar, and I shall feel glad that at least some of the fruits of the garden and the hedgerows have been put to the best of use."
This is a great way to round off late Autumn, heading into our greatest showcase of harvest food....Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

Kathy Poncy said...

Just Lovely. There are so many wonderful books out there to be discovered and you have discovered a gem. I love to take the time to enjoy the words and thoughts that others have had the courage to share with us. I am a bibliophile through and through. Thank you for this sharing and for enjoying the best of the Fall Season.

Happy Thanksgiving. As you gather at your table, please remember how much you mean to me -- each one of you.