It seems like I’ve spent a good part of the summer picking, eating and preserving fruits. There is an abundance wild and domestic fruit here in this part of Nebraska, and I’ve been fascinated by it all summer. Every time I turn around something else is ripe. The season started with mulberries, currants, choke cherries and elderberries. In the past few weeks it was pears, then wild plums, and lots of watermelon.
A woman in town has an old pear tree that was dripping with pears, and she invited me to come over and pick as many as I could. Even though she is in her 80s, she was canning those pears, a batch or two each day. I showed up with a five-gallon bucket and filled it up.
I canned pear butter and brandied pears, and made paleo pear cake. I also fermented the peels and cores in a bucket for a week, then used the foaming yeasty liquid as my leavening for a pear sweetbread. (Note: If you use wild yeast, you have to let it rise longer than conventional yeast.) It was delicious. A few weeks after that I strained what was left of the pear peels and bottled it, leaving the solids to settle out. Now I have pear cider vinegar.
A few weeks after the pears were done, the wild plum trees along the county road and on the farm were bursting with little red plums, and I went to work with my buckets on them. I made plum tart, plum upside-down cake, Asian plum sauce and plum BBQ sauce. I dried a bunch of them in a dehydrator to use later. I have a jar of the dried plums soaking in syrup and spiced rum, which should be great in desserts. The insides are sweet and juicy, but the skins are tart and even bitter, so processing the good stuff out is time consuming.
I picked an extra bucket full for a friend who can’t get around very well anymore, he’s is also in his 80s. (Most of the people who live around here are quite a bit older. Their children have moved away to the bigger cities, and the towns are slowly dying.) One day while we were sitting around and chatting under a walnut tree, he told me stories about all of the plums and wonderful jellies and jams that they used to make. I promised him that I’d pick some for him, and made good on the promise. I’m not sure how happy his wife is about that, I have a feeling he will want her to make jelly.
And the watermelon … I’ve never had such sweet, delicious watermelon in my life. There is no comparison between a store-bought watermelon and a home-grown one. My partner grows lots of them every year to feed to his customers while they wait for him to clean their seed wheat. He’s got it down perfectly. He found a great variety for this region, and knows exactly when to plant, and how much and when to water. They’re divine. We grew some cantaloupe in the melon patch this year, they were amazing too.
I’m sad to see the summer ending. But I’m sure that I’ll spend the winter finding new recipes to use for next year’s bounty. Mmmmm, I can’t wait!