This first harvest of tomatoes went into a chutney, with some of the small tart apples, gleaned in an abandoned homestead apple orchard, abundant this year but not yet sweetened with enough frosts. The tart apples married well with the sweet ripe tomatoes, spiced with red, green and yellow peppers, curry, dates and a touch of raw sugar and homemade apple cider vinegar. Three dozen pints should keep us happy.
I enjoy looking ahead this time of year, and providing us with small gifts and celebrations of summer, for the slow cold days of winter. Perhaps this act is the more genuine origin of the holiday tradition of buying up summer's sale items, storing them in closets and other dark places to bring them out adorned with festive wrapping to generate a feeling of celebration and giving. Although I have long abandoned the malls and consumate culture of consumer-mania, I still feel drawn to practice this art of adorning our harvests into creative and stimulating combinations, package them up and put them in a dark cupboard, until they are called upon, one by one, to generate that true feeling of celebration and camaraderie.
Another crop just coming into it's peak are the Ground Cherries. These are indeed a strange fruit, quaint in their paper wrapping, and odd flavor combination of tomato and pineapple. But they are a prolific annual fruit that can be grown by gypsies and renters alike. Harvesting them is a unique process as well because as the name implies, the fruit falls to the ground when it is nearly ripe, and finishes ripening in the dappled shade of the bushes. Their paper husks make them resistant to rot, with a good mulch underneath, and dry weather, the fruits will ripen conveniently on the ground, and can be gathered once a week. Which is a relief because lifting and weaving through the tangled, ground-hugging branches to gather the fruits is a bit of a chore, not at all like harvesting other fruits that ripen at more convenient heights.
But they have a few winning qualities... They are not a watery fruit, making them easy to dry, they make perfect little raisins, with a pineapple twist. And they will continue ripening indoors, much like tomatoes, lengthening the season for fresh fruit, and making for convenient sized harvests for ease of preserving, instead of the all-at-once nature of more delicate berries. Also, I have never once seen a bird or other animal or insect (besides the occasional slug) attracted by the fruit, so I have no competition for the harvest, unlike true cherries and tree fruits.
To dry the ground cherries, I simply string the ripe fruits into long chains and hang them behind the wood stove. Depending on the weather, and how often I am using the wood stove for canning, they will take a week or so to dry into raisins. I store the dried fruit in glass jars, opening the lids often in the first month to check for moisture on the lid, or a moldy fruit. If they are still moist they can be spread out on a cookie sheet and placed in a warm (100F) oven for an hour or so, cooled and returned to an airtight container in a dark, cool place.