The harvest continues as the warm autumn sun continues to shine in between a few rainy days. I’ve taken advantage of the dry days to plant one or two overwintering crops; the little Egyptian “walking” onions and over a hundred cloves of garlic for next summer’s harvest, both gifts of gardening friends. The pair of old bedroom windows that C. replaced this summer will find a second life in the garden as little cold frames for some lettuce seedlings that were started a few weeks ago.
Soon, when I have finished harvesting the tomatoes and the weather grows colder, it will be time to shift the moveable cold frames in the veggie garden so they will help shelter the greens that I hope will survive through to next spring; chard, parsley, kale and other brassicas, spinach and more lettuce.
This year I have been canning the excess tomatoes, as opposed to drying or freezing them. The number one freezer is already full to the brim with berries, salmon and last year’s remaining venison. The off-grid micro-hydro system has not kicked in yet due to the very dry summer. We won’t be able to run the second freezer until we get some significant rainfall which will provide the necessary electricity. If there was freezer space, I would simply pop the clean, dry tomatoes into freezer bags and into the freezer to be used later in recipes calling for canned tomatoes.
There are now 27 pint jars of tomatoes on the pantry shelf that will keep us supplied with tomato-based sauces, stews and soups for the next year or more. To bottle my tomatoes I simply fill sterilized, hot, glass Mason jars with washed, raw, ripe tomatoes, whole or cut up, squashing some to release a bit of juice, filling the jar within an inch of the rim. Unlike some cooks, I do not remove the skins or the seeds beforehand as these do not bother me or the people I’m feeding. Sterilized canning lids and screw bands are placed on the jars. I seal these in a pressure canner for 10 minutes at 5 pounds pressure in order to save on fuel but the jars of tomatoes could also be sealed in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes.
C. and I had planned a little road trip for the end of the summer work season. Around the middle of September we took off from the end of the road, where we left the skiff and got in the car in order to drive to the southern Gulf Island where we both spent many of our formative years. That island’s annual fall fair was scheduled to take place over the weekend, and C. had never been. Some of my family were planning a get together and there were plenty of good friends to visit as well.
Before we left we picked almost all the apples, pears and plums from the trees in our orchard. By removing the fruit, any bears that happened to pass by in our absence might not be tempted to climb the trees, breaking branches and wrecking the trees in the process. This year’s apple crop is minimal, unlike last year when we were over our hats in apples. We stashed the semi-ripe pears and apples in C.’s slatted wooden storage boxes under the house where they will keep for some time to come.
This year our little plum tree produced eleven pounds of fine fruit. Not a lot really, but the largest crop of plums we’ve ever had. We took half the Italian prune plums with us to eat along the way, the rest I stored in the fridge in a paper bag to await our return, and today we have eaten the last of them with lunch. I think I shall plant some more plum trees soon!
The fall fair was a lot of fun. We met two of my siblings at the fairgrounds that Saturday and spent a wonderful afternoon together, strolling around, checking out the exhibits, bumping into many old friends along the way. Local musicians entertained and a collection of vendors prepared a variety of delicious edibles from falafel to lamb burgers. The famous island pie ladies were doing a roaring trade. The mile long queue of hungry fair-goers could hardly wait to sink their teeth into those luscious fruit pies.
An agricultural fair, the usual farmyard animals are represented in fewer numbers than I remember from previous fall fairs. I did not see any pigs, but there were a number of goats and sheep, a cow with two nursing calves and what looked like a tiny Jersey calf, but was really a mature female mini-cow. I never did reach the riding ring where the horses were competing, but instead enjoyed a lively display of sheep herding (harassment!) by a talented border collie.
There was a good selection of rabbits, and a variety of poultry; chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. Many of these entries belonged to the island’s 4H club youngsters. The sights and sounds of the animals in the exhibition barns caused my brother and I to reminisce about our own childhood fall fair experiences in what was once a little farming town in the Fraser Valley, now a sprawling suburban landscape.
More than fifty years ago, before I turned nine and was old enough to join the 4H beef club, my mother always made sure that she and all of her children were represented at the local fall fair. My mother entered her homemade bread, and was criticized at the time for her “non-traditional” round loaves. My three siblings and I each took a turn in our farmhouse kitchen baking, each on our own, a plain white cake with a plain butter icing, for entry in the “Children’s White Cake with Icing” competition.
The kitchen would be utter chaos all day long, but we were always thrilled to take our completed cakes to the fair the evening before the big day. The entries were housed in large, partially open, canvas tents set up at the local fair ground. Once, we arrived on fair day to see that my young brother’s cake had been marked by a series of paw prints. A cat had walked across the cake on the display table sometime during the night! That cat must have had good taste; my brother’s cake won the first prize ribbon!
In past years this Gulf Island’s fall fair seemed to have larger displays of livestock, field crops, orchard and garden produce, fewer commercial crafts and merchandise. Fall fairs in general were more about the harvest and the farming way of life along with its rural crafts such as spinning wool, basket weaving or woodworking, less a celebration of commercial manufacturing or urban pastimes.
There were, in the fall fairs of my youth, many more entrants in the preserving, baking and garden produce sections. Either fewer people participate in the activities of home-preserving and baking, or the ones that do, have grown tired of placing their entries in the fall fair. Perhaps it’s a sign of an overly urbanized, industrialized population.
Sadly, I feel the old country ways are disappearing. Surely these ways will be lost forever if not for the folk who are genuinely interested in preserving or reviving the old time traditions. Is it possible after thousands of years of acquiring the knowledge and developing the skills to grow and produce food for our families, we humans will forget how to do so?
Back home, on our neighbouring island, there is a wonderful old-time fall fair, but it only takes place every two years. This seems a brilliant solution to the problem of volunteer, and entrant, burn-out. Next time there’s a fall fair on that island, I might have to enter a jar of jam or marmalade! Or perhaps a bottle of canned tomatoes. Or the chutney I just finished preparing with a boxful of windfall apples.