A few years ago, our family established “Elderberry Fest,” an autumn celebration of the unsung elderberry. This year Elderberry Fest occurred this last weekend of September rather than in mid-October due to Hallie’s work schedule.
There were pros and cons to this earlier date. We seem to be having an extended summer this year and certainly not an early fall. In fact, back in town today I picked eight tomatoes – the most I’ve had this year – and my yellow crooked-neck squash is finally bearing. Somehow it just doesn’t feel like pumpkins yet. But we did enjoy the beautiful weather during our long weekend on the farm.
Elderberries are a little sparse this year due to the dry, hot summer, but we found enough. Nick had learned to stem the elderberries by simply beating the clusters rapidly against the bucket. That improvement revolutionized the process, replacing hours of sitting and raking through the clusters with a fork. Nick literally separated the berries from the twigs as he picked. I will concede, though, that he was a better at it than I.
From twelve cups of elderberry juice, Nick and Hallie processed 20 half-pint jars of jelly. This year Nick brought “Pomona Pectin” to replace the standard Sure-Jell. From what I observed, it seemed easier to use and provided more options. The Pomona leaflet reads: “Use our suggested recipes (feel free to double and triple them) but don’t be afraid to experiment and develop your own recipes.” Anyone who has read the Sure Jell leaflet knows that the directions are filled with “do nots.” Deviating from the prescribed method may result in failure, they say, though my dad did anyway if it suited his purposes, much to my mother’s consternation.
Besides elderberry jelly, Nick and Hallie have now expanded their interests to take in a variety of fruits. I think we’re all asking, “What other old-time fruits and berries are here? What can we do to further cultivate and encourage the fruit of the land?” So, we decided to experiment with the Italian prunes which grow wild in the ‘hood. We have a lovely stand of prune trees on Stove Creek, but we decided to pick from a tree on the canyon edge. The prunes were sweet and appeared to be falling, so I assumed they were ripe. However, in processing them, we found that many did not readily yield their pits. Hallie declared that this was already her least favorite fruit, but in the end they processed several batches of excellent prune preserves.
Friday afternoon we drove out to the rural village of Nezperce to take in events of the Lewis County Fair. We checked out the exhibits – flowers and produce from country gardens, aprons and quilts, photography – well, you’ve probably been to a fair. We saw a neighbor’s name on a number of exhibits and then we saw the neighbor. She said that she and one or two others contribute quite a lot to the exhibits “or else there wouldn’t be a fair.” We’re thinking about the possibility of participating next year. We also watched as some of the 4-H kids showed their lambs.
Besides jelly-making and the trip to the fair, we enjoyed other activities as well. I pointed out that there were still some beautiful pears – perhaps the most beautiful – clinging to the tree. Nick climbed into it and tossed them down to Hallie. I tried to arrange cool storage for them – not sure I succeeded. We’ll see if the fruit ripens.
Saturday morning Mike helped me pick apples from several country trees. I made sauce of the wonderful little red apples from the tree nestled under a pine tree on the lane. (If I were an artist, I would paint bright red apples nestled in pine boughs.)
Later that day, Nick and Hallie helped me pick more of these apples and then pruned the dead limbs from the tree. Here are before and after pictures of that project.
Oh – and Mike introduced Nick to shooting clay pigeons with a shotgun. Perhaps Nick is a budding bird hunter.
Of course, Elderberry Fest ended all too soon. We were sorry to say good-bye. It’s always good to end on a positive note, but I will miss them as I continue to work with the fruits of autumn. KW