The front porch has been decked out in autumn bliss since late September, but not the back. That view from our library was less than appealing, now that the geraniums are fading, so yesterday afternoon I transformed the courtyard with clusters of dried Indian corn tied with twigs of maple leaves and pyracantha berries hung from the pair of black lanterns at the back door, and repeated on the post lantern. On the table I set an old blue basket I found in the tool shed, and filled it with a collection of pumpkins.
Voila! It’s autumn.
Except for the Indian corn, none of those elements from nature came from the garden at all but from an assortment of decorative items gathered over the years from Pier 1 Imports. Real pumpkin and gourds from country farmers’ markets don’t last. I tried storing them on shelves in the tool shed, only to find them shrunken with gooey rot and mold the following spring.
What a waste of money, not to mention the fruit itself. I should have piled them in the corner of the garden for the winter. I could have smashed them with a shovel after the snows. I could have raked the seeds into wet soil and waited for a new crop the following fall.
But I didn’t. Hence, Pier 1 has become my supplier of autumn décor.
However, I do clip branches of dried rose hips, twigs of dogwoods and sweet gum leaves turned orange and red, collect pomegranates from Safeway’s produce stand, and add to a wreath of twisted grape vines gathered from some long-ago trip to a vineyard. Entwined within lies memories of family outings in an October orchard, picking peaches when the children were still little, and learning to preserve fruits for the coming winter months.
Last week, I put up several jars of peach preserves and an equal number of peach chutney, the first time for four years. No jams or jellies for me. I prefer chunks of fruit, with the peeling left on for color, as topping for French toast or waffles, with little sausage links, for Saturday brunch.
I think of chutneys as accompaniment to a roast, as cranberry sauce – or chutney, much better! – is for Thanksgiving turkey, so yesterday I opened one of the jars of the new peach chutney for our oven pot-roasted pork shoulder Sunday dinner. C’est magnifique.
Later this afternoon, I’ll cook up a pot of green tomato chutney, using the same recipe as for almost any chutney. You can, too, with your own left-over tomatoes still green on the vine.
For a small batch yielding four pints, chop up the fruit into one-inch chunks and add to a soup pot or small Dutch oven, yielding two quarts. Add one-half cup of chopped onions, a cup of raisins (I prefer golden raisins for their sweetness), one and one-half cups brown sugar, two cups apple cider vinegar, one-eighth cup mustard seed, a teaspoon each of curry, cumin, and ginger. Stir to blend, and heat over medium heat, uncovered.
When this lovely concoction begins to steam and bubble, turn down the burner to a simmer, stir, and leave it to do its business with occasional stirring for about three hours.
In the meantime, sterilize jars in a dishwasher cycle, and the lids in a pot of hot water, boiling for five minutes, then keeping warm on the stove.
After the chutney mixture is thickened, stir one final time. Pour into sterilized jars, up to a half inch to the top. Wipe jar rims with a damp paper towel before adding the lids. Screw rings tightly. Turn jars upside down and place onto cake racks until they cool. This is the self-sealing method not requiring a canner. Your first reward is the almost musical ping-pings of lids popping inward.
I recommend leaving the jars inverted until they have reached room temperature, then store in your pantry for up to three months, unopened. Once opened, refrigerate, or refrigerate unopened jars for long-term storage.
Enjoy the process and the fruits of your labors all winter long.