Summer is short in the Berkshires.
At least, compared to summer in south Texas, where I was born and reared. Warm weather there stretches for more than half the year. Here in western Massachusetts, especially in the hills where Ethan and I live, summer's really a three-month phenomenon.
And this year I spent two of those three months in Jerusalem. Where the climate feels much more like what I remember of Texas, actually -- granted, Jerusalem's dry in the summertime in a way that Texas isn't, but the heat was familiar to me, and the plant life. Oleander and crepemyrtle and bougainvillea all grew in my parents' backyard when I was a kid. Prickly pear cactus. Fig trees.
But now I'm home in the Berkshires. For once, I've gotten my share of heat for the season; I don't mind that the days here are already growing cooler, because I feel like I got enough exposure to sun to last me through the coming winter! But I find that I'm trying to pack a whole summer's worth of Berkshire experiences into the short time that remains before it's time to start celebrating the advent of fall.
I missed our local baseball season this year, and the nearby drive-in movie theatre that we love so much has closed early because the proprietors have moved. (Anyone want to buy a movie theatre and reopen it for next summer?) But some of our seasonal pleasures are still here to be enjoyed. We'll be ringing in Shabbat tonight by gathering friends on our deck for a barbecue, which makes me happy. And I've been savoring Caretaker Farm since I got back in town, and pickling up a storm.
I started a batch of cucumber pickles on Thursday. The container in which they're slowly fermenting is lined with grape leaves I picked in our own backyard. The pickling spice is made from scratch: fennel and cumin seeds, peppercorns, allspice berries, bits of cinnamon stick and chipotle pepper. Fresh dill and garlic cloves. Covered the whole thing with a saltwater brine, weighted the proto-pickles down, and draped a towel over the top so nothing falls in. In a few days I expect to see bubbles forming. Soon I'll start skimming schmutz off the top of the brine. They should be ready to eat in about three weeks; I might can some for the winter.
And I picked a bag of string beans, and put up six pints of them -- all with mustard seeds and garlic; some with dill, some with hot peppers, one with both. They'll make good gifts this winter. (I'd hoard them for us, but our baker's rack is -- delightfully -- already loaded with jars of pickled green beans from previous years' harvests.)
I have plans to do more, this weekend. I want to hit a local farm stand, get an armload of fresh local corn, and put up corn relish; it's one of our cooking staples, in the wintertime, and I love the sweetness of real fresh corn. And I keep dogearing pages in our canning and pickling books, finding new recipes I want to try.
There's a lot of joy in canning and preserving, for me. I like that it's a physical task, a nice break from sitting at my computer. I like that it's productive, a way of preserving the harvest. I like that it's a discrete task with tangible results. And I like the emotional resonance of it, the opportunity to consciously be grateful for the bounty of the life I'm blessed to lead. I'm grateful for the farmers who maintain Caretaker Farm, for the incredibly hard work of coaxing our hills into yielding this amazing abundance. I'm grateful for their time and energy, and for mine, which allows me to do the work of putting things up for winter. And I'm grateful for the knowledge that when sleet whisks against our windowpanes, I'll have some of this sweet Berkshire summer in gleaming rows of jars, waiting to be savored all over again.