Dry? Freeze? Jam? Give Thanks

The gifts of summer have filled my senses to overflowing.

The air is warm but not hot and constantly refreshed by a gentle breeze that keeps the bugs at bay.  Recently, the wind has carried either the thick, fecund smell of cow manure or a floral smell with origins we can’t identify. This morning, I woke to the drumming of a gentle steady rain. Other mornings, it is the call of birds that pulls me from sleep, declaring territory or announcing food rather than calling for mates as they were a few months ago. The flowers and butterflies are a kaleidoscope of colors, changing from one day to the next as they blossom, mature and decline. The garden is overflowing with fragrant herbs and this short growing season’s crops are at their peak. What am I to do with this abundance?

I began the day trying to reign in the bounty. I cut handfuls of herbs, attempting to save their fresh flavor for the long winter ahead. We built a new drying rack this year and strung a line inside. I am excited to be able to preserve some of the fragrance and flavor for later days. But I’m not fooled, I know the dried herbs will be more subdued than the fresh ones that we put in our salad last night. While it will be nice to have the herbs from our garden in a winter soup as a reminder of summer, they will not bring back the sensory extravagance of the season.

And what about the 10 pounds of local blueberries that I ordered? We have eaten our fill and shared with friends. I need to preserve what’s left before they begin to rot. We can freeze some for winter smoothies and baked goods. But the freezer’s full of the strawberries that we picked in July. It will have to be jam — and blueberry muffins and blueberry pancakes, and…Wait!

Over the course of the morning, I went from fully enjoying the season’s bounty, to attempting to preserve it for future enjoyment, and now struggling for ways to use it lest there be waste. I want to be a good steward of the earth’s resources, but I don’t mean to be clinging to this bounty. I am painfully aware of inequity in the world and always carry the heavy burden of responsibility along with the awareness of my good fortune at being able to maintain the health, safety and happiness of my family. But somehow the preservation of the season’s excess started to feel greedy. Yuck! That’s not right at all. I am holding on too tight. 

The better response to the season’s joys is gratitude. Weeks ago I realized that I could not harness the indulgence of the lazy mornings or giggly late nights of my teenage boys enjoying the freedoms of an unencumbered summer together. I wait patiently for them to greet the day and join me on an adventure in the late morning. I still expect them to do their own laundry, but I love to cook their favorite dinners and appreciate that they are here to eat them. I listen to their late night antics with a smile, even when it is keeping me awake. These could be some of the last carefree summer days of their childhood. Future summers may have work obligations, academic goals or other distractions… Or maybe they won’t. Either way, the time and relationship that is in bloom now will shift and mature. I am simply grateful to observe and appreciate it.

The same is true in the garden and in the kitchen. I will preserve the excess fruits of the summer season, but I cannot retain summer. And I don’t really want to. I want to harvest today’s abundance and store enough to meet tomorrow’s needs without holding too tight. I want to celebrate the smells, tastes, sounds and sights of this day. Preservation for the future is important, but gratitude for the present nourishes even more deeply. Summer’s abundance will soon be gone, but autumn will be full of gifts too. We can welcome each season with joy and preserve its abundance with a gentle hand and light heart. As these long days of summer begin to wane, I will dry, jam, freeze and share the season’s fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, I will give thanks.