Preserving the tastes of a Manitoba summer
As we move into the month of September, we begin to leave summer behind and may be looking for ways to extend the season. Summer in Manitoba has many joys – warmth, sunshine, long hours of daylight, lake life, festivals, to name a few. And then there is the taste of fresh, local produce. In these days of refrigeration and long-distance shipping, you can buy a variety of fruits and vegetables year-round in the grocery stores. But the produce picked too early and shipped from miles away just doesn’t taste the same as that picked from your own garden, or bought at the local market garden or farmers’ market. Preserving some of the harvest is a great way to get a bit of summer in the middle of winter.
Many people look forward to strawberry season, when they head to one of the many U-pick strawberry farms. Strawberries are usually ready late June or early July. This year, I started early (or so I thought) on a Wednesday morning. I arrived at the farm about twenty minutes after opening and there were already about fifty people in the fields. By the time, I left there must have been over a hundred people. One of the farm workers said it was unusually busy for mid-week. Later in the season, raspberries and saskatoon berries are available.
I made a few jars of strawberry jam and froze bags of strawberries. When I pull out those frozen strawberries later in the year, not only will I have a reminder of summer, I will experience other memories. When I was growing up, a great aunt and uncle had a huge strawberry patch on their farm. When we visited in the winter, my parents and aunt and uncle played cards while I and my siblings played or watched television in the next room. Sitting on the metal stove in the kitchen, the stove that provided heat to their upstairs bedroom, were frozen strawberries, thawing. Before we left, we’d have a snack of ice cream and strawberries.
My mother came from a tradition of farm women who planted large gardens and canned, froze, and pickled the produce to feed the family through the winter. In addition to the produce from her own garden, she bought boxes of in-season British Columbia fruit when they showed up in stores, also canning that for use in the winter months. In comparison to my mother, I dabble in preserves, doing a few here and there, in quantities that are treats not a full winter’s supply. And except for a few short years when I had a large country garden, I never grew enough of my produce to preserve. The one thing I make fairly consistently in larger quantities is dill pickles, using cucumbers bought from market gardeners. My mother’s simple brine recipe is a perennial favourite.
There is something extremely satisfying in surveying the rows of completed preserves and thinking about tasting summer in the winter. And, when the jars are lifted from the water bath and set on the counter, the popping sound of metal lids as they seal is like music.
Do you do anything to preserve the taste of summer?