Joan Weed, contributor
Weed’s in the Garden
My gardening friends always comment at this time of year: “Have you noticed the light has changed?”
And indeed it has, heralding the close of one season and the opening of another. The sun rises a bit farther south and sets earlier all of a sudden.
This means there will be new chores and discoveries if we’re aware. The garden brings a new set of blooms — cardinal lobelia, wood asters, Cimicifuga (now Actaea), monkshood and the amazing dahlias.
The vegetable garden and farmsteads also provide the abundance we have planned for since spring. With the plenty comes preservation, and the nesting instinct kicks in as we dare to think of snow coming.
Tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers galore. It’s the time of crucifers — cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, chicories. After frost it’s time to dig carrots, parsnips, beets. Onions and potatoes should be stored by now. The garlic is pulled earlier in late July. Alliums need curing in a dark dry place before storage. Relishes, jams, pickles, kimchi, dried herbs and on and on. I love it.
This is when garden clean-up begins but also planting. It’s time for garlic and spring bulbs to go in the ground and get established before hard frost.
The aforementioned dahlias must be lifted and stored with a comforting cover of organic material in a frost-free spot. The browning perennials we enjoyed for the past months now must be selectively trimmed.
I like to save trimming of rudbeckias and ornamental grasses till spring. The birds will enjoy their seeds all winter long. Speaking of birds, the winterberry fruits have colored up and will remain till nearly spring when one day a host of robins will swoop in and clean off the branches.
This is the first year my cornelian cherry tree has produced enough fruits to taste. They are perfectly ripe jewels right now and delicious. They are not round like ordinary cherries but oval and produce much later in the season. I noticed the chipmunks devouring any that I don’t find first.
Apples, pears and plums are plentiful now, and I have a few special sweets to make with their arrival. Marian Burros’ famous plum torte is not to be missed and apple crisp, French apple cake and of course apple sauce.
I freeze apple sauce and am happy to find a container ready to thaw. Using my Foley apple peeler, I don’t have to peel the apples by hand. Cutting into chunks and keeping the skins on adds to the rosy color of the sauce which is pureed after cooking. A touch of cinnamon is nice.
Julia Child’s baked pears is a favorite all winter long as pears are available till spring. I’ll offer a few recipes to get you started.
Baked Pears (after Julia’s recipe)
6 ripe but firm pears (Anjou, Bosc or Bartlett)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup apricot or peach preserves (strained if preferred, I don’t)
About 10 crushed simple cookies such as Bordeaux, ginger snaps, macaron
Peel and core pears. Slice into eighths and place in a decorative pattern in a greased, flat, oven-proof baking dish. Dot with butter. Warm the preserves and mix with wine. Pour over pears. Top with crumbled cookies of choice. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve warm or chilled with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Makes great breakfast too.
French Apple Cake
(from 177 Milk Street)
Edited for space
8 Tbsp. salted butter (plus more for pan)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4” slices
1 pound Braeburn or golden delicious apples peeled, cored and cut into 1/4” slices
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons apple brandy or Calvados (I used Nick’s Dead Bird Brandy)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9-inch baking pan with butter; dust with flour.
In 12-inch skillet, brown butter by swirling for 1-3 minutes. Pour into small bowl and add allspice. In same skillet, add apples, sugar and salt. Cook stirring till moisture has evaporated (12-15 minutes). Add brandy, cook for 30-60 seconds. Transfer to plate to cool and refrigerate 15-20 minutes.
In large bowl whisk eggs, vanilla, 9 tablespoons sugar. Gradually whisk in browned butter. Combine all with flour and baking powder. Add the cooled apples and fold until evenly coated. Transfer to prepared pan. After spreading sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake until deeply browned. 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing, about 2 hours.
Enjoy Vermont’s famous autumn colors and abundance.