The Indian Summer is a time for reflecting on the bounty of the year and preparing for the shorter days of Autumn. Our garden at The Bear and Star is at its climax, sun-withered tomato vines straining against the pull of a record harvest and obese pumpkins basking on the parched earth, waiting for their curtain call at Halloween.
Cooler nights and morning fog have sent the garden into one final push, refreshing plants that were languishing from the mid-summer heat before they are turned back into the soil.
We can’t keep up with the wheel barrows of ripe produce coming from the garden. Now begins the race to pickle and preserve each precious ingredient at the height of ripeness. Gallons of cherry tomatoes are washed and trimmed before slowly being roasted down to a crimson tomato paste. Carrots and runner beans are jarred and covered in hot brine infused with mustard seeds and rosemary.
Thousands of cucumbers are sliced and salted in preparation for making bread and butter pickles. Late season berries are simmered down with sugar to make jars of decadent preserves and jams. A collage of spicy peppers are blended with sea salt and fermented into a pungent hot sauce that will hopefully last long into the winter months.
It’s easy to forget that not so long ago chefs relied on stockpiles of preserved ingredients to make it through the darker months. Today we can go to any corner market and get ripe tomatoes and cucumbers year-round.
Global shipping has enabled us to defy the seasons, but in doing so has taken away one of our most primal satisfactions – sinking our teeth into that first heirloom tomato of the year; its sweet-verdant aroma and warm juices awakening our senses to the summer months.
When you open a jar of tomato paste from the garden on a cold winter evening, it’s a concentration of more than just the raw ingredients. It’s a time capsule of long-summer days, a reminder of the friends and family who helped with the harvest. No matter how perfect and glossy, a winter tomato from a distant land can never compete with the tomatoes from our own backyard garden, or the memories they contain.
The act of preserving food is perhaps nature’s first savings account. I can’t imagine a more apt meaning for “saving for a rainy day.” Even if you don’t have your own garden at home, you can often find farmers practically giving away excess crops at your local farmers market during the height of harvest season. Go ahead, invite over some friends, open a bottle of wine, and celebrate the Indian Summer with your own pickling party. One afternoon of work will yield a treasure trove of ingredients for your winter pantry!
About the Author: John Cox is Chef Partner
for The Bear and Star in Los Olivos and
Cultura Comida y Bebida in Carmel by the Sea.
When John isn’t in the kitchen, he can often be
found at the restaurant’s 714 acre ranch where
they raise Wagyu Beef, Chickens, Quail and Vegetables.