Alyce Faye Bragg: Garden's rewards are God's blessing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hot September rounds the last corner of summer, bringing cooler weather this morning. Pleasantly scented with ripening apples and sweet grapes hanging heavy on the vines, she also brings a definite hint of coming autumn. As if in answer to some subtle signal, yesterday's heat has melted away and been replaced by delightfully cool weather.
Puffy, white clouds are scudding across the blueness of the September sky, making dark, shifting patterns on the slopes of Pilot Knob. The calendar still says summer, but the hills know better. There is autumn in the beech leaves, which are slowly turning a bronze-gold hue. It is felt in the restless wind, in the growing coolness of the nights, and in the morning mist that lingers.
It is seen clearly in the golden coreopsis flowers that wave from the road banks, and in the spreading fields of goldenrod. It is heard in the plaintive chirp of the crickets as they mourn summer's passing.
The last corn patch has been stripped of its nubbins, which were put away to pickle in the cellar. The glass jars are all full of summer's goodness, and the deep-freezer holds the garden surplus in a frigid grip. There is deep satisfaction in stripping the garden bare and knowing that we have stored away supplies for the coming cold weather.
This way of life has been ingrained in us since babyhood. Just as the wild animals make provision for the winter and squirrel away caches of food, we feel the need to store food for our family. A lot of people tell me you can go to the grocery store and buy food that is cheaper than what you grow, and also takes much less effort. I figure that is true, yet somehow I cannot summon up the sense of pride in a shelf of store-bought food that I can in what I have planted, cultivated, harvested and canned with my own two hands. (And there is no comparison in taste.)
There is also a vicious warfare in raising a garden. We battle the elements, which seems at times intent on wiping out any trace of the work of our hands. Sometimes there is too much rainfall, and flooding, which can destroy a garden in one fell swoop. At other times, the rains fail to come at the needed times, and the crops simply dry up and wither away.
Then there are the varmints that invade, destroy and eat our hard-earned crops. Wild rabbits love the peas and lettuce, and crows will pull up a green corn sprout to eat the attached grain. Before we installed an electric fence, deer mowed off a green bean patch as neatly as a lawn mower. Our dogs don't seem to deter the deer, but their attitude is, "Come on in, boys, and help yourselves!"
I could never understand why, with all the green vegetation available in the woods, these horned devils want to come into a garden and eat the tomatoes right off the vines. Along with the bean beetles, potato bugs and Japanese beetles, it is a miracle we could raise anything. The rewards are sweet when we do.
Living in the country has many rewards. These misty fall mornings are delightful, and early risers find pleasure in God's handiwork. A cool mist hangs over the landscape as the night shadows flee away. The faraway crow of a rooster cuts through the steady humming of the fall insects, and the sleepy twitter of a songbird comes from the thick branches of a pine tree.
A spider web hangs down from the clothesline, a tiara of pearls strung with invisible thread. It must be the fairy queen's crown, forgotten after dawn came and put an end to night's festivities. Patty's orange pumpkin shines through the brown grass like a miniature sun.
God's presence is so near here in the garden in the cool of the morning. Birdsong springs up in a nearby thicket, a song of pure praise unto the Creator. The scent of lemon balm and peppermint is a sweet incense that ascends heavenward, and my heart is full of praise and thanksgiving unto the Maker of the Hills, who has created all this beauty.
Later in the day, the cares of life will press in, and numerous tasks will find our hands busy. But right now, this quiet, peaceful time alone with God in the cool of the day refreshes the soul and blesses us all the day long.
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Paul Holcomb, of Clendenin, writes to inquire about Mrs. Everson's recipe for Tail End of the Garden Relish. Her daughter Beth says her mother didn't use a recipe as well as she remembers, but used the scrappy vegetables that were harvested after summer was over. We were taught to "waste not; want not," and utilizing all the leftover vegetables made sense.
In addition, these relishes are delicious when served with a pot of brown beans and a skillet of corn bread. This recipe can be adapted as you wish, and made hotter by the addition of more hot peppers. There is a satisfaction in knowing that you've used up "the tail end of the garden"!
Tail End of the Garden Relish
1 quart chopped cabbage
3 cups chopped cauliflower
2 cups chopped green tomatoes
1 cup chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
Chopped hot peppers (optional)
3 tablespoons canning salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ginger
COMBINE vegetables and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 4 to 6 hours. Drain well.
COMBINE sugar, white vinegar and the spices in large cooker. Add chopped, drained vegetables to the sugar-vinegar mixture, simmer 10 minutes and bring to boil.
PACK hot relish covered with liquid into hot pint jars. Adjust lids, process 10 minutes in hot water bath.
Recipe can be doubled or tripled.
I think I would use a food processor to chop the vegetables. Mrs. Everson probably used a hand grinder, which was a staple in most farm homes.
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There has been a scrap of an old song running through my mind the last few days, and I'd love to have all of it. Daddy used to sing it long ago, and all I can remember is "the catbird calls and the sleepy whippoorwill, the tune of the moon goes behind the hill." Anybody recognize it?
Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 2556 Summers Fork Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.