It\’s late summer, and the garden is in its manic phase again. Everything is happening at once: the tomatoes are (finally!) ripening; and must be made into sauce. The eggplants are getting bigger by the minute, and if I don\’t pick them at their peak, they will lose their sweetness. Meanwhile, the cool weather crops, which in Vermont endure through the summer, continue to need harvesting, or go to waste.
But the most dramatic onslaught comes from the beans. One day there are only flowers on the bushes. The next, fully adult beans are hanging from the stems. Quick! I must get them while they\’re tender. I spend hours picking, snapping, blanching, cooling, packing. The next day, strolling through the garden looking for some chard, I part a couple of bean plants out of idle curiosity and lo! pounds more beans have ripened overnight.
All day long, basket in hand, I run from garden to kitchen and down the basement steps to the humming freezer, exclaiming that this is ridiculous, how can these plants produce so much from plain dirt, I haven\’t time to deal with all this, when will it end? I bemoan my compulsion to not let a single smidgeon go to waste. Those overgrown zucchini should go to the chickens. I could boil up some of that extra chard and kale and mix it with the dogs\’ food—it\’s good for them and it would save some of the outrageously expensive kibble I feed them. A saner person would turn her back on the late summer garden and say enough! But I am not that person.
In reality, I am never happier than when I am “putting food by.” Every summer I grow pounds and pounds of produce in my little garden, give it away to my children and to the local food bank. The rest I dry or freeze for my husband and me and for the dogs and chickens (who like nothing more than a handful of steamed veggies on a cold winter day). It gives me an atavistic feeling of security. Who needs stocks and bonds when there are jars of dried tomatoes on the kitchen counter and strings of hot peppers hanging at the kitchen window?
Compared to the preserving habits of our great-grandmothers, my squirrel techniques border on the primitive. I don\’t dry meats, or can vegetables, or preserve eggs in lard, or make those gorgeous jars of jams and jellies and pickles. I just freeze a bunch of stuff, and dry tomatoes and peppers. But even as I manipulate stove, dryer, and freezer I am echoing the activities of the animals in the woods behind the house: the bear fattening on berries (lucky beast, he carries his food-stores under his skin); the field mice carting off bits of laying mash that the chickens spill; and the squirrels, maniacally storing nuts. Are they anxious, I wonder? Do they dread the coming snows and bitter winds? But I see the perky motions of the squirrels, the way they hold up their fluffy tails, their air of busy self-importance, and I know that for them, too, this is a happy time of year.