September 23, 2004
It's the first full day of Autumn - bright, golden, glorious.
We've been busy filling bottles with our bumper crop of chile
and cayenne peppers to make Aceto
Diablo Chile Pepper Vinegar, which is now back in stock.
Out in the upper garden, Lara is picking more of the jalapenos
(it's their 3rd picking), and Ralph is bringing in the pumpkins.
It's been an incredible summer for peppers and tomatoes.
We've been buried under an avalanche of tomatoes in what
Ralph calls "the 100-year-flood" of tomatoes. We've
put up more than 200 jars of Herb
and Garlic Pizza Sauce,
and cases of quarts of tomatoes for soups and sauces that
we'll live on all winter. When I returned home late on Tuesday
after a farmers' market the air was full of the rich aroma
of tomatoes and bay, basil, oregano and garlic Ralph had
been simmering on the stove.
All of the varieties we grew this year did extremely well.
My favorite is still Enchantment, a deep-red
plum tomato with wonderful complexity of acid and sweet flavors.
Our trials, the Italian heirloom San
Marzano Redorta and
the Polish heirloom Polish Liguisa were impressive
as well. Many of them weighed more than a half pound and
they were meaty and virtually seedless.
Ralph had staked every other plant and Lara wove twine between
the stakes to support the plants which really thrived in
this system. I credit the ample rain and sunny site with
the success this year too. I know that in some locations
farmers had trouble with tomato blight. Our soil is so sandy
and our site so sunny that for us, the rain was a gift, not
The three varieties of Italian peppers are having a banner
year too. The Giant Marconi seems to be the winner.
The plants are prolific, the fruit huge and wonderfully sweet.
The Italias came on first but
produced less fruit overall than the Giant
Marconi. Their flavor, though, is excellent. The Corno
di Toros are coming on last; in fact, they're only now
beginning to redden. Although the plants are loaded and I
expect to harvest many, I probably won't grow them again
because they come in so late.
These wonderful Italian peppers are the foundation for our
newest preserve, "The Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve." We've
run about four experiments in the kitchen, changing the recipe
a bit each time to come up with something which we think
is really good. For years people have asked us to make a
pepper jelly, and I always explained that I couldn't find
any recipe that didn't use pectin and I didn't want to start
using the stuff now. I also didn't like the sweetness of
a typical pepper jelly or the gummy texture that the
added pectin gives it. I finally had an insight (in the bathtub,
no less) and we used that technique in the first experiment.
Although we used less sugar than in a conventional pepper
jelly recipe, the first experiment was too sweet and not
spicy enough for us.
As we refined the recipe, we switched from cider vinegar
to a wonderful red wine vinegar which we infused with lemon
basil. We also increased the proportion of chile peppers
(jalapenos, cayennes and chiles) to Italian peppers. The
result is a preserve whose flavor is a complex blend of pepper
flavors with a spritely layer of lemon basil and perfect
zip. As with all our preserves, the texture is softer than
a conventional jelly or jam, but it will hold its own on
a cracker with or without cream cheese, and is really wonderful
with chicken and shrimp, either as a condiment or a coating.
(Our friends have been testing our experimental batches and
have provided these recipe hints. I'll try to get some into
the next newsletter. My favorite used the pepper preserve
with pistachios as a coating for
shrimp.) Look for The Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve to be
The Autumn raspberries are just coming on. The crop looks
the best of any I've ever seen. Ralph and Peter built a new
greenhouse structure over them from which we'll drape plastic
to protect the fruit once frost threatens.
The frame is really beautiful, built of wood rather than
metal pipes. The top is gambrel-shaped, like a barn. That
will get the first of the plastic.
As the temperatures dip further, he'll drape plastic over
the sides as well.
Now that the frame is in place, I'm sure we'll have a long,
warm autumn, free from frost until the last date imaginable.
The last time the greenhouse structure protected our autumn
raspberries late into the season we picked our last berries
on the day that the people elected Al Gore president. That
night we had a hard frost and then all hell broke loose.
This year I plan to be picking raspberries on the glorious
autumn day that John Kerry is elected in a landslide. And
the Red Sox will win the World Series. Believe it.