Right now, on one countertop and in the fridge there are pears, peaches and plums, keeping company with apples and berries. They are all ripe, ready and in need of attention.
It seems to happen that way every September, usually just before or after Labor Day weekend, depending upon the kind of summer we’ve been having. This year, even though summer took too long to arrive, it’s been both dry and hot the past weeks up until recently, and everything is ripening quickly. Everything, that is, except our tomatoes, which are still hard and green, but that’s another story.
Before we go on, however, I have to tell you about something that happened after my recent column about apples, but no Gravensteins. It’s one of many fun and interesting things that have happened to me over the years I’ve been doing this column.
A few days after the apple column ran in the paper, I had a phone call from a woman who lives on Saratoga Road, overlooking Baby Island. Her name is Barbara, and she has a Gravenstein apple tree in her yard. She said the apples were just ready to pick and I’d be welcome to come gather some, which I arranged to do the next day.
Well, not only does Barbara have a Gravenstein tree, she has three (perhaps four?) other apple trees in her yard, along with some of the most beautiful flowering bushes, roses, flower beds, and raised vegetable beds I’ve seen in a long while. There is also a small greenhouse filled with burgeoning tomato plants (she says the greenhouse was her daughter’s idea and she loves it) as well as an awesome Hawthorne tree, loaded with wine-red berries, and a view out over the water from her gardens that takes your breath away. As I was stammering on about how lovely it all was and what a huge job it must be to maintain, Barbara simply commented, modestly, “Well, I just love to garden and it’s what I do every day.”
Barbara is 90.
So, right now, also sitting on a counter in my kitchen is a Gravenstein apple pie, something I’d not made or eaten for a very long time, due to the lack of Gravensteins. It is every bit as uniquely delicious as I remember, and I owe it all to Barbara. Thanks, lovely lady; I’m so glad you called, and not just because of the apples.
Now, let’s get back to that surfeit of fruit. My grandmother would have been busily canning and/or otherwise preserving this bounty; I’ve never been much of a hand at canning, but when it comes to jam, jelly, fruit butter or chutney, I’m like Barbara … it’s what I love to do, so I do it all summer long.
I hope I’m still doing what I love to do when I’m 90.
Ripe and ripening island blackberries are everywhere now, and hopefully you’ve taken advantage and picked yourself a gallon or two or three. Blackberry jelly on a warm muffin on a January morning is a welcome reminder of summertime, but a few sips of your own homemade blackberry cordial on a chilly winter evening can also make the heart grow fonder.
BLACKBERRY CORDIAL (LIQUEUR)
You’ll need at least 1 quart of blackberry juice. This can be extracted by boiling the berries until soft, in a bit of water to prevent scorching, then putting them through the old “jelly bag” routine (squeezing through layered cheesecloth or a kitchen towel). If you’re lucky enough to own a steamer/juicer, then simply steam the berries and extract the juice until you have a quart. (My steamer/juicer is a valued possession, many, many years old and still in fine working condition; I don’t know if they’re still available anywhere.)
To each quart of juice, add the following: ½ stick of cinnamon, ½ tsp. whole allspice, 1-2 T. cloves (to your taste) and 1½-2 cups sugar (again depending upon your taste for sweetness in your cordial). Simmer gently for about 20 min.; strain, allow to cool a bit, then add 1 pint of French brandy. Pour into a large jar or bottles and age in a cool, dark place for 3-6 weeks.
This liqueur or cordial can also be made with vodka or kirsch. Use approximately the same amount of either, but again follow your own taste for strength. Only by some experimentation can you decide which is your own favorite blend of spices, juice and liquor, but the taste testing along the way isn’t a real hardship. However, once you’ve found your own favorite combination, be sure to write it down so you won’t have to try to remember this time next year. You’ll have a bit of summer’s blackberry flavor to savor for a winter treat, and it’s also delicious over ice cream.
When my friend Diane’s plums are ready to be picked, there’s no such thing as “But, I already have this, that and the other to deal with;” when the plums are ready, that’s it. I just made a batch of plum butter, which will be delicious on scones, English muffins, or whatever else is on the breakfast table. This recipe gives no specific amounts because it all depends upon how many plums you have to deal with.
Plums, washed and any stalks removed; no need to peel or pit
Whole blanched almonds
Sugar (you’ll need about 2 cups sugar for every pound of plum pulp, depending upon the sweetness of the plums and your own sweet preference)
Ground allspice, to taste
Blanched almonds, chopped (amount to your preference)
Put the plums into a large preserving (stainless steel) pot with a little water (very little if the plums are really juicy). Simmer for
10-15 min. until the fruit is very soft, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool a bit, then press through a coarse sieve. Discard pits/skin debris.
Measure the sieved fruit into the pot/kettle (cleaned first). To every pound of plum pulp, add 2 cups sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Add the allspice to taste and chopped almonds; simmer gently five to 10 min. or until the mixture is a smooth, buttery consistency.
Pack the plum butter into hot, sterilized jars and cover with lids. Process according to your processor instructions (it’s usually 10 min. after you lower the jars into the boiling water in your steam/boiler/processor). Check and tighten the seal and store jars in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to enjoy and/or give as gifts to friends.
Note: I’ve had some emails asking about other apple recipes; if you’re in need, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.