Use as Directed

So, grape jelly.

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This is one of those cases where using the recipe in the box is just fine. In general I have no complaints about sugar, but for jelly I want to taste the fruit, so I went with a low sugar pectin from Ball. This recipe could more accurately be called ‘lower sugar’, because there’s still quite a bit, but the grapes are not overpowered and that’s what I was going for.

Grape Jelly

5 1/2 cups grape juice

3 1/2 cups sugar

1 box low or no-sugar-needed pectin

Prep 6 half-pint jars.

Mix pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Combine pectin and juice in a large pot, along with a small bit of butter. (The butter will keep everything from foaming too much. I skip this step when making jam, but it really helps to make a nice, clear jelly.)

Bring to a boil.

When you can’t stir the boil down, add the rest of the sugar.

Bring back to a boil, and when you can’t stir it down cook for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Skim any foam.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.

Process 5 minutes in water bath.

Yield: 5-6 half-pint jars.

Kindness of Strangers

Just when I’d accepted I wouldn’t be making grape jelly this year, a neighbor I’ve never met stopped by and asked if I’d like to pick some of her grapes.

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She’s at the peak of a bumper crop of Concords, growing on a vine she dates to the early 1900’s. Since she has lived in her house and tended her garden for 65 years (!), I’m going to take her word for it.

We picked and picked and didn’t make a bit of a dent, and then I came home and used my steam juicer to process the piles of grapes. The steam juicer is a fabulous invention. It’s pricey, so not worth it if you don’t process a lot of fruit, but if you do it saves a lot of time and effort. I can remember my parents making grape jelly when I was a kid, juice straining through cheesecloth, making a purple mess of everything nearby. I can’t say it inspired me to want to make any of my own. The juicer, in contrast, is neat and easy to use. It consists of three pots on top of each other. The bottom holds water, the middle juice, and the top whatever fruit you’re processing. As it steams, the juice flows through a tube from the second pot into whatever vessel you choose, or, if you’d rather, the tube can be clamped and the juice will remain in the pot. More fruit can be added as it shrinks down, so I was able to fit all of my grapes in the one pot. The only thing to watch out for is that you don’t run out of water in the bottom pot.

Now I’m ready to start making jelly with some of the 10+ quarts of juice the grapes yielded. The rest I’ll can for drinking, if it doesn’t all disappear from the fridge before I get to it.

Imagine That

The garden is starting to look a bit worn around the edges.

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Stalks are drying up, leaves are wrinkling. There are more spent flowers than blooms. We’re harvesting less, happy with a handful of jalapenos when just weeks ago we were bringing in giant colanders full of produce.

It isn’t over yet, but I’m already planning for next year. What to grow more of, what less, what plants to move around to make the garden in my yard look like the garden in my head. But while I’m improving in my mind I’m trying to be sure I pay attention to these final flowers, the breeze coming in the open windows, the sound of insects in the night. It’s too easy to get caught up in my imagination and miss what’s in front of me.

Destined For Greatness

Pumpkin!

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The little pumpkin I wrote about a few weeks ago was ready to be picked yesterday. There are a few tests a pumpkin should pass before it’s harvested. It should, of course, be the right color. If you rap it with your knuckle it should sound a bit hollow. And if you poke it lightly with your fingernail, the skin should be firm enough to offer some resistance. When all that criteria is met, cut the stem with a very sharp knife close to where it attaches to the vine. The stem acts as a scab of sorts, sealing off that end of the pumpkin so it will keep until you’re ready to make the pie you’ve been planning since you planted seeds in June, the pie the critters attempted to thwart, in short, the greatest pie you’ve ever eaten.

Now Playing

Dianthus Everlast is among the plants putting on a second show in our garden.

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The flowers bring some unexpected white to the mix of fall-blooming plants, a kind of punctuation mark to the palette of autumn that surrounds them.

This particular Dianthus is a perennial. It bloomed back in June, and when it was done I gave it a good haircut. When these blooms are spent I’ll let them stand. It makes for a less tidy fall garden, but I like to let plants complete their natural cycles at this time of year as they get ready to head into the cold weather.

Falling

I hate to do this to you, but I’m calling it.

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It’s time for soup.

Or at least time to make soup for your freezer. Multiply this recipe by as many tomatoes as you can get your hands on and freeze in pint jars with airspace on top for expansion. You’ll thank me in a few weeks.

Roasted Tomato Soup

7 or 8 tomatoes, cut in quarters

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, diced

8 cloves garlic, peeled

1 Tablespoon sugar

2 cups vegetable stock

1/2 pint heavy cream

Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Lay cut tomatoes in foil-lined roasting pan, cut side up.

Add peeled garlic.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast 45 minutes.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan.

Add onion and cook til translucent.

Add sugar and stock and bring to a boil.

Add tomatoes and garlic.

Puree til smooth.

Add cream, and blend again.

Yields about 7 pints.

Makes Sense

Lemon balm smells bright and fresh.

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It is used as both a tea and a bug repellent, and its flowers are particularly attractive to bees. Because it’s a member of the mint family, it can quickly overtake the plants around it, so to keep it under control I will cut it back often and pull any seedlings that sprout. Every time I do I will be met with a wave of lemony air. Taste and looks are important in a garden, but when choosing plants I like to keep my other senses in mind as well.

Extended Forecast

I’m working on extending the flowering season in my garden. I figure the longer I can make it look like summer, the longer I can pretend winter is not coming.

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The sunflowers growing just outside the entrance to our house are doing a good job of keeping things cheerful as the nights begin to cool. In addition, cosmos are still blooming, autumn sedum are waking up, lavender is putting on a second showing, tall phlox are hanging in there, and a random balloon flower or black-eyed susan is making an appearance. Yes, I just replenished my wool sock supply and cold weather is on its way, but let’s just ignore that and enjoy the view.

Keeping It Fresh

Stevia from the store is a white, powdery product.

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Unsurprisingly, fresh stevia looks nothing like that. We came across a plant this spring at a garden center and surreptitiously snipped a leaf to give it a try. It was different than anything we had ever tasted before, which meant it had to come home with us. So far it’s been a novelty plant for us – something I ask everyone who visits to taste – but hasn’t made its way into our diet. It’s sweet, as you’d expect, but then it has a very strange aftertaste, one I’m not sure I quite like. I have some sprigs hanging to dry in the kitchen, so we’ll see how that affects the flavor. Experimenting with new plants is one of my favorite parts of gardening. Some may not grow, others may not be to my taste, but the trying keeps things interesting.

Bee, Prepared

The oregano is beginning to flower, keeping the bees busy as they stock up on food to get through winter, just as I do.

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Oregano is intent on taking over the world. No matter how often I cut it back, it inches ever outward, claiming any bit of dirt it can reach. We grow Greek oregano and spicy oregano, which I dry and mix together. They’re only slightly different in flavor, but combining them adds a bit of depth. With temperatures in the nineties today it’s hard to imagine wanting a hot lasagna sprinkled with dried herbs, but I know that day is coming sooner than I – or the bees, I imagine – would like. Hopefully we’ll all eat well when the snow flies.