Editor’s Note: Columnist Lynne Irons was struck with the flu and will be back next week. The following column by her was published in the Gazette on Oct. 12, 2007.
I am enjoying a big glass of grape juice at this moment. If I could have a do-over in the gardening world, I would not have constructed a grape arbor, however pleasing to the eye. Mine is made from locust posts and very attractive. I would have to be four feet, five inches tall to comfortably pick the grapes. I think I am going to tear it down, cut the vines within an inch of their lives, and string some wire along the posts like they do in the big wineries.
Nevertheless, I gave my daughter sufficient guilt so she picked two enormous grocery bags full. It took me a couple of hours to pick through and clean them. Luckily I gabbed on the phone during most of the not-too-pleasant task.
The washed grapes in a big pot are covered over by at least two inches of water and brought to a slow simmer (boiling may make the juice bitter.) I let them sit overnight for no particular reason except fatigue on my part. In the morning, I pour through a colander making sure to dirty every bowl and pot in sight. Then, strain through a cheesecloth to remove sediment and sweeten to taste.
I process quarts for 30 minutes in a 190-degree hot water bath. Again, resist the temptation to boil. My son’s roommate commented it was the best thing he ever tasted. It is not effortless but well worth the effort spent. Thirty years ago I tried my hand at wine making in a big garbage can. It resulted in 40 gallons of vinegar. Good thing I quit drinking.
I love looking at plant combinations and putting them in the memory bank for next season. I have a lovely callicarpa with its bright purple berries next to bright yellow-leafed pineapple sage that is quite stunning.
Callicarpa dichotoma or japonica, known as purple beautyberry, is a refined, graceful shrub with arching spreading habit. The flowers, in the summer, are light lavender and not conspicuous. The berries which start in September until November are just remarkable. There is one at the visitors entrance of the Polly Hill Arboretum. Callicarpa likes good drainage and full sun. It can be cut within six inches of the ground in late winter and will flower and fruit that season. It is an asset to the mixed border this time of year. The yellow pineapple sage is also great with the Empress of India nasturtium.
They tore down a house in Edgartown. My friend Sharlee lived there one winter in the seventies. I was reminded of a canning mishap that I need to share. We were making applesauce and decided to use the pressure cooker to soften the apples rapidly so we could run them through a press. We had never used a pressure cooker to cook food but always had good luck using the larger pressure canner. Anyway, during one of the batches, we could not remove the lid so Sharlee and our friend Gale positioned themselves with a foot each on the counter, with a “We’ll get that so-and-so top off” attitude.
After scraping two quarts of sauce off the ceiling and tending to some burns, we read the directions:
1. Never force the pressure cooker open.
2. Never cook apples as a piece of skin can get stuck in the pressure release valve.
Okay. Good to know.
It is time to think about fertilizing trees and shrubs. The roots are about to do their important work preparing for next year. Use Pro-Holly on all the acid lovers. Spring is the time to fertilize the perennial beds to promote healthy leaf growth.
I was listening to a National Public Radio segment about the Japanese response to global warming. One man commented that some of our methods, like taking our own bags to the supermarket, are like fighting war in the 21st century with a bamboo sword. The coal-burning power plants and our addiction to oil are so devastating to the environment that it will take serious government intervention, soon, to even begin turning it around. Write those congresspeople, folks. They work for us.