Enjoying The Fresh Taste Of Summer In Winter

By Angela Bristow

Something that was always a source of pride for me growing up was the fact that our family canned or froze vegetables and fruit to enjoy in the winter. When the other kids were eating out-of-season, hard-as-rocks fruit or anemic tomatoes that didn’t taste anything like a tomato, I was enjoying canned run-down-your-chin, juicy peaches and bright red tomatoes.

Each summer my mom would take my brother and me to a local berry farm where we would pick blueberries and strawberries. Developing our work ethic, I guess. I remember walking into the “shed modified into a store” and the smell of fresh fruit hitting my nose in a wave. We would walk or ride in the owner’s golf cart up to the rows we were to pick.

We didn’t particularly like the work in the hot sun or the farm owner that would walk up and down the rows making sure we weren’t just picking the big berries, but we did like eating them. Some, of course, never made it into freezer boxes at home since we had to taste test. The blueberries were fat and burst in our mouths and the strawberries were sweet and juicy.

But the best was yet to come, because in the winter mom and I would make blueberry buckle with those prized frozen berries. The kitchen would smell wonderful while it was baking with the delicious crumbs toasting on top. It was hard to wait even a few minutes for it to cool enough to cut a piece. The blueberries were soft and the juice permeated the buckle. I’m drooling just thinking about it. We would also use the blueberries in pies, muffins and pancakes.

Some of the strawberries had been frozen whole and some turned into one of the tastiest treats my mom makes – strawberry freezer jam. It was great to be able to go down to the basement freezer to get one of the jars holding that red ambrosia. Waiting for it to defrost only heightened the anticipation for all the things I would use it on – toast, cottage cheese, cheesecake and ice cream. Mom never made it too sweet, but just right, with chunks of strawberries throughout the jam like little prizes of taste and texture.

Each summer we would also purchase fresh picked peaches from a local orchard. Some of these bushels of sun-kissed fruit were eaten right away with the juicy fruit falling away from the pit in the freestone peaches my mom always got. The rest were blanched, peeled, sliced and canned. These beauties were enjoyed in the winter over pancakes and in peach cobbler. You know what I’m talking about – really fresh-tasting cobbler with the crunchy, sweet topping – Could somebody please pass me a napkin? – with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Every fall one of the neighbors across the street would let us help ourselves to their pear tree. Well, we couldn’t turn down free pears, right? Mom would send me across the street with a bushel basket to pick up pears that recently fell from the high branches. She would can these with spices to be eaten either sliced or as pear butter. Yummy!

Every year mom planted tomatoes and would always can quart jars of them for winter in the form of sauce, juice and chunks. They were blanched, peeled, sliced or pureed, and placed in jars. Later we would use the tomato juice and chunks in bean and vegetable soups.

Canning was always a tense time in our household because undoubtedly mom would scald herself on the boiling water and announce in no uncertain terms that she was NOT doing this again the following year! Of course, she always did – much to the delight of our taste buds. In the winter we would have rich, fresh spaghetti and chili sauces seasoned with various herbs to give the sauces just the right kick. (Is anybody else getting hungry?)

We always had frozen corn, too, that we either grew or would purchase from a local farm. I remember blanching the corn and then helping to shave the kernels off of the cobs. When defrosted and made for dinner it always tasted fresh-picked – and mom’s corn fritters were fabulous.

Whether home-grown or purchased from one of the Valley’s many orchards or farms, having fresh berries, fruit and vegetables during the cold months somehow always reminded us of the warm summer days that had passed and brightened our hope for those yet to come.

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