At home, early fall is the season of harvesting and curing. The air smells of it, especially on this rainy day. We are experimenting with things that age this fall, in an old-timey way. Of course all things age. Many things age in beneficial ways.
We’re making wine! We planted ten elderberry bushes last year, and already this year they produced enough berries to make two gallons of wine. The elderberries prompted me to look around, and it turns out you can make wine out of just about anything. My old cherry trees made bushels of sour cherries this year, so we picked some and started 2 gallons of wine. Next spring we’ll try dandelion wine, and next summer, black raspberry wine. These things grow with no work required! We just pick and ferment them.
We’re making cider! Since my apple trees are not producing fruit yet, we buy the juice from an orchard down the road. Cider’s good for my impatience, and I’m not just talking about the effects of drinking it. It takes three days to turn it from juice to bottled, bubbly hard cider (using sugar-gobbling champagne yeast), with an alcohol content close to that of beer. Easy and tasty!
We’re harvesting black walnuts! Our house is surrounded by large black walnut trees, and every year we pick up the nuts they drop and throw them in the bushes. This year we’re throwing them in the driveway instead. After the cars run over them a few times, their soft green hulls come off and we pick out the nuts. Then we wash them, put them on racks to age for a few weeks (walnut meat gets better with some age), and whack them with a hammer to pick out the meat. A little more drying in the oven and they’re good to keep in the refrigerator or pantry. I like their buttery flavor better than the english walnuts bought at the store, and they’ll be awesome in pesto.
It also turns out that walnut hulls contain a powerful, indelible black dye, which used to be used making ink and clothing. Next time I’ll wear rubber gloves.
This is winter squash season. We picked a wheelbarrow full of butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash. It ages on drying racks. This helps the rinds to harden and the squash to keep longer. I also think it makes the squash sweeter as the sugars mature. We’ll be eating it through December; no refrigeration needed.
Eggs! Our dozen chickens are laying about six dozen eggs per week. It cost me some money to build their coop initially, but now their feed costs are recouped by the eggs we sell. And our kids love them; they have named each of them (Barbie, Pony, Auntie Em, Peach, Professor, Calm, Unicorn, Fluffy Butt) and treat them as pets.
These things cost very little but our time, and each is meaningful in connecting my family with seasonal rhythms and with what nature provides. We aim, every year, to multiply these connections.