The lettuce in our little garden has all gone to seed, and we’ve cut all the sweet spindly broccoli heads from the stalk. A few cherry tomatoes hang like emerald beads from the stem, as we wait patiently for them to turn red; hoping, in the meanwhile, they won’t freeze before their time.
Aspen leaves fading from deep green to lime to hues of mustard and chile are visual reminders of the season coming to a close – the stunning illustration of summer’s last dying breaths. Yet the summer’s gradual demise, captured in burnt ochre meadows splashing the high country and aspen stands putting on their most vibrant cloaks, contrasts in strange beauty with the bounty of the harvest season.
At nearly 10,000 feet, I can feel winter just around the corner. Luckily, lower elevation climes around Telluride still have a few more weeks of summer; and luckily, those lower elevation climes tend to grow spectacular fruit and veggies.
Each year around this time, I’m overcome by the gaudy display of summer’s offspring brought to this not-especially-agricultural community via the weekly Farmer’s Market. I feel this nostalgic giddiness, walking past stands broadcasting plump heirloom tomatoes, fleshy exotic-sounding melons named things like Swan Lake, and row upon row of stone fruit in every imaginable shape and color. The bounty brings with it, on one hand, a sense of serenity: Feeding a family in the harvest season is easy, even up here in the high country.
But on the other hand, the opulence of harvest season is fleeting, soon to be replaced with the tasteless monotony of living, and thus eating, in a place covered in snow for nearly six months a year. It is this sense of urgency, the inherent understanding that these flawless tomatoes I hold in my hand today will in just a few days turn soggy and fill with mold, not to return for nearly a year; and it is this, the transient nature of the harvest bounty, that lies at the heart of my reckless behavior at every Friday Farmer’s Market during the harvest.
I am like the Augustus Gloop who falls into Willy Wonka’s river of chocolate: I cannot resist the urge to bathe myself in the decadence of the delectable. I am, currently, swimming in a sea of nectarines. Tomatoes too. And next week, I know, I’ll be up to my elbows in squash, or apples.
Like I said, I can’t help myself. Especially when incredibly tasty, organic, but not perfectly perfect-looking #2 nectarines and tomatoes go for just $1 a pound. There are currently 25 pounds of each in my kitchen, waiting patiently to be processed.
This – the repercussions of my Farmer’s Market binges – is what I curse. While I love the idea of canning, freezing, and/or drying the season’s best organic, locally grown fruits and veggies for future family meals, it is A MAJOR UNDERTAKING to deal with 50 pounds of fruit on the verge of spoilage.
(In my defense, Craig did tell me he was going to process the tomatoes; he makes a killer red sauce. I should have known after his late Saturday night out with the boys that Sunday would be no day for canning tomatoes at the Prohaska household.)
I seem to recall this same end-of-summer profusion last year, and how it brought me to my knees for a few weeks in the seemingly interminable management of preserving fruit and vegetables. Elle, who at that point was just starting to pull herself up to standing, would stand at the edge of one box of fruit – pears maybe – reaching in like it was a bowl of candy and taking bites out of any one she could get her hands on while I frantically worked at washing, skinning, pitting, and processing a box of something else. Now, I sit at the kitchen table writing this week’s column as two boxes of seriously incredible fruit quietly but persistently call to me, “We don’t have much time! Stop what you’re doing and can us!” I recall this feeling of suffocation by tomato puree, caused by the preservation projects I pushed onto myself last harvest season. Fruit skins stuck to my arms, fingers sore from pulling sharp stones out, sweating over a giant pot of boiling water, sticky everywhere and feeling downright discouraged at the still-massive pile of apples/peaches/nectarines/plums/squash/greenbeans/carrots still to be managed.
This is in direct contrast to my enthusiasm at seeing the same massive piles of fruit and vegetables in their Farmer’s Market stalls, the sight of which compels me to pull out my checkbook and tell anyone who will listen about the nectarines I canned last year. Which, by the way, were incredible.
The 50 pounds of summer, brought to me last Friday thanks to the hard labor of our regional farmers, will, somehow, find their way into a jar; the freezer or dehydrator, at the very least. And come January, I know I’ll be silently thrilled to dust off a jar of crimson and gold nectarines or to reach into the freezer for a bag of homemade red sauce. To get there, though, I need to put everything else on hold, and get canning!