XXIV: The end of summer comes too soon

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A cold summer and a short fall make for miserable double damage.  Most of my winter squash is still small, and will never ripen, the zukes are just getting started, so it is time to plant for the rest of the gardening year.

In fall I teach methods for extending the harvest, so that next fall won’t be so dismal. Try it yourself — plant fresh broccoli and Brussels sprouts in early August, and they will begin producing now.  If a light frost is on the way, toss a sheet over them.  If a heavier frost, surround them with bales of hay, and keep a bale or two for the top.  Most of these plants will survive a light frost, as will kale, turnips, beets and peas.  If really cold weather comes too soon, pull up the whole plants and set them in boxes in the basement. They will keep you supplied for weeks if you water now and then. Squash that develops a nice hard rind should be kept warm and dry, and will be edible until May comes around.  Yellow onions also will keep some time if dry.

Lemonade Chronicles is a blog written by Jackie Alfonso, a local writer who is deeply concerned about food … and other issues.

I have been harvesting the herbs for several weeks, and also the rose hips.  A winter’s worth of thyme, savory, sage, marjoram and tarragon are either dried or in vinegar.  That makes it not quite so disappointing a season.  So I pull Dorothy Hartley off the shelf and make next year’s garden in my head.

Eliot Coleman has some great information about using a hoop house through the winter, and that is on my wish list for 2010.  But perhaps the real wish is for an actual growing season…

Looking over the wilderness, I must say that this is the time of year for Dorothy Hartley and traditional English fare.  Warming soups, rather antique things like apple and pork tarts, Yorkshire teacakes at tea time.  Missing only the open hearth and long toasting forks.  The nostalgia is less about the taste than the aroma, the slower pace, the consciousness of having properly attended to the stocking up for the cold.

It is the time when I am least susceptible to the asparagus from Chile, most interested in participating in the slow food production in Australia.  Most cognizant of the times I have attended programs at the Arboretum and had a lunch box with hard little tasteless apples while they sold Honeycrisps from their own orchard across the road.

Taking time at 4 p.m. for a fresh hot cup of Earl Grey and a muffin, or a real Yorkshire Teacake, makes a day golden.  In Yorkshire one plans tea time with an allowance per person of two hot fresh buttered teacakes per person, and two extras for good measure.  Don’t believe the recipes that include currants, raisins, candied peel, etc. – those are affectations from the recent B & B craze, gussied up for foreigners.

True Yorkshire Teacakes:

½ oz fresh yeast or one generous teaspoon dry yeast

1 lb ‘strong’ bread flour (that is, high-gluten flour)

1 cup lukewarm milk

Scant tsp salt [may be omitted or much reduced]

2 oz butter

Rub the butter into the flour until evenly distributed

Add yeast and milk, stirring lightly, then salt if used. 

Stir to combine, cover with a clean tea towel, and leave in a warm, undisturbed place for one hour, when it should have risen to a lovely light sponge.  Sprinkle lightly with a bit of flour, stir down gently, turn our onto a floured board, and shape into 12 buns.  As you make them, set the buns on a buttered baking sheet, keeping them well apart, as they will grow.  In 30 minutes, start the oven heating to 425 degrees.  With your finger, poke right through the middle of each bun, and slide the pan gently into the oven.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 20 minutes, checking often.  The cakes should barely brown on the bottom only.

When done, remove the cakes to a rack.  When cool enough to handle, split and top each half with butter, and put them back together. Pile onto a warm plate and add to the tea table offerings.  Welsh Cakes are far more restrained, but they do have currants as a rule, and a sprinkle of castor sugar*.  They are cooked on a griddle, generally use lard rather than butter, and are best eaten the day made 

*Castor or casting sugar is our white sugar;  in English tradition castor sugar is seldom used outside of baking.  The sugar offered with tea is turbinado or other light brown sugar, at last more available in the U.S.  People apologize if there is only the white sort.