Sadly, it’s nearing the end of the major growing season here in central Indiana. The leaves are beginning to turn that golden green and a few are already floating to the ground. Plants are rushing to produce seeds. Squirrels are seriously burying walnuts throughout the lawn and gardens. The morning air has a bit of chill, and there’s that definite feeling that the seasons are changing.
Oh yes, I’ve sown some fall crops, but very soon the squashes, tomatoes, peppers, okra, and other heat-loving crops will be gone. Already, the cucumber vines have given way, so many of the trellises stand forlorn, empty of the flowing green vines that so prettily shaded lettuce and spinach crops at their base. Even before the vines were dying, the quantity of cucumbers was dwindling to the point that there were not enough to make a batch of anything.
Fortunately, as I was looking at my harvest basket with just a bit of this and a bit of that, I remembered as a very small girl, helping my mother and grandmother make what they called “Last of the Garden.” Of course, we canned jars and jars and jars of the colorful, tasty mixture, but I decided to make just one jar, using a gallon jug normally used for sun-tea. Into it, I put green and red cherry tomatoes, tiny zucchini and Sunburst squashes, 1″ chunks of cucumbers, tiny 2″ long okra, a few garlic cloves, red cherry and other colorful sweet peppers. Small carrots and onions were par-boiled for 5 minutes, drained, and then added to the mixture, along with a few sprigs of summer savory. If I’d had tiny broccoli or cauliflower bouquets, or string beans, I’d have added those, too. Some might add hot peppers, but I prefer it without the heat.
The pickling mixture was simply 2 cups of cider vinegar, a cup of water, and a half cup of sugar all heated and stirred until the sugar dissolved. Any number of herbs or pickling spices could be added, too, but I decided to keep it simple. I added a ball of waxed paper under the lid to keep all the veggies submerged. Any that stick above the liquid will develop mold, which should be avoided. The colorful jar sits on my counter, where I can nibble a bit while I’m cooking, or easily pull out a few goodies to add to a salad or appetizer platter. When I have a few more tiny veggies, I add them, and give it a good stir. If the liquid gets low, I add a bit more, or if we’ve eaten a jar of sweet pickles, the leftover liquid from that can be added. When the garden season has ended, and I’m no longer continually adding and removing veggies, I’ll stick the jar in the refrigerator for the winter. That’s when we’ll really, really appreciate the “Last of the Garden.”