Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Misty Moisty Mornings and Watermelon Pickles

One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man, clothed all in leather.
I said, “How do you do? How do you do?” and “How do you do again?”

These are the words that play over and over in my head whenever we have a beautiful foggy morning like we have the last two days. They are snippets of a song from my childhood, and I’m not even sure if I’ve remembered them correctly, but somehow they fit.

Misty moisty.

Everything shrouded in soft, eerie mystery. Looking familiar, yet somehow not. Hiding another layer that we can’t normally see. My garden looks softer, the bright colours muted and earthy. My yard looks like it’s mine, but maybe not. Maybe it’s a different yard, a different world.

I see it with new eyes.

I love this kind of weather. It makes me excited in my bones. Fall is coming. My favourite season of the year. After the languor of summer, my senses sharpen and come alive in the Fall. It has always been associated with new beginnings for me: school starting, my birthday at the end of August, bringing in the harvest, canning with my mom, the anticipation of Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas, traipsing after my dad in the brilliant fall forests as he hunted. And inhaling the deep, rich smells of the autumn air. And crisp cold apples to crunch into, right off the tree.

My garden has that look now – rich, ripe and calling me to dig out the last treasures. Like the tall heads of dill. Sentinals waving their floppy plumes – little wind-inverted umbrella skeletons.

I have the dill, but no pickles.

No matter -  I found peppers.

On the weekend, while browsing the Italian market, I was romanced by the many bins of  sweet peppers, all kinds, shapes and colours. Reds, yellows, oranges. Greens and dark purples. Long and pointy ones, little fat round ones, odd shaped ones lobed and folded like a bulldog's jowels. I felt like a child in a toy store. I had to have those bright, colourful new things to play with. My Auntie Lily’s amazing watermelon pickles popped into my mind, making my mouth water ferociously. I hadn’t made them in years and I suddenly wanted them.

Badly. Right now.

So I loaded up on peppers. Drove home and snipped off the dill heads in the garden. And started canning. (As if I haven’t canned enough this year.) Filled my kitchen with the heady aroma of boiling pickle brine – another intoxicating smell that means Fall to me.

And when I woke up this morning and viewed the misty, moisty morning outside and the rows of watermelon pickles lined up on the counter inside, I sighed. Sipped my steaming tea and smiled.

Fall is here.

Like all the women in my family, my Auntie Lily is an amazing cook, and this is her recipe, handwritten into my recipe collection when I was newly married. The amounts are somewhat general, like those of all priceless family recipes. Use one watermelon to a few pounds of peppers. It’ll make several quarts. How’s that for precise?

Auntie Lily’s Watermelon Pickles

Sweet peppers
Dill sprigs
Pickling salt

Prepare the watermelon:  cut the melon in half, place cut-side down on  a cutting board and with a sharp knife, slice away the peel, including all the white parts. Cut the watermelon into rough chunks, about 3 to 4 inches long (10 to 12 cm) and 1 inch wide (2 to 3 cm).
Trusty assistant hubby doing watermelon duty

Prepare the peppers: wash them, core them, and cut into lengthwise wedges, several inches wide. Trim off the bent-over lips at the top and bottom of each wedge to make them flat and easier to slip into the jars. (Use the trimmings in a vegetable sauté for supper.)

Into each sterilized quart jar, put one blossom-head of dill (or sprig of the herb, if you can’t get blossoms) and 1 peeled clove of garlic.

Fill the jars with watermelon chunks and peppers – in a ratio of about ¾ watermelon to ¼ peppers. Wedge them in as tightly as you can without squashing the watermelon pieces into mush.

Sprinkle 1 tsp. pickling salt into each jar.

Prepare a brine with the ratio of 3 cups water to 1 cup vinegar to ½ cup sugar. (This amount fills about 4 quarts.) Bring to a boil, then pour over the jars while still hot, to within ½ inch (1.5 cm) of the top. Seal according to canning instructions and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Don't overprocess - start timing as soon as the first boiling bubbles appear. 

Enjoy all winter long and think of autumn.

And misty moisty mornings.

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