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Make canning part of your fall kitchen routine

Have you heard all the talk about Indian summer? It seems to be everywhere lately. But the chatter is premature.

Our recent warm temperatures are typical of September and October in Northern California in late summer and early fall. Indian Summer comes later, after the first killing frost. If we're lucky, this won't happen until sometime in November.

Does this even matter or am I simply being pedantic? It matters to me, in part because I can be a bit of a pedant and, more importantly, because the foods of late summer and of Indian summer are quite different.

By definition, fresh tomatoes, fresh chiles and ripe melons are not part of Indian summer's harvest. That killing frost ends their season. For Indian summer, think pumpkins, winter squash, celery root, apples, quince, cranberries, pomegranates and, if it comes late enough, persimmons.

Now, in early fall, many foods we associate with summer are just hitting their stride. The delicious yellow watermelons of Bernier Farms, the best I've tasted this year, are just coming on. Finally, there are plenty of poblanos and other chiles, including Padrons and Shishitos, at our farmers markets. My trumpet plant — a Brugmansia Feingold, I think — has had just two blossoms so far; by the end of the season last year, it had more than 50.

Tomatoes are still glorious. Just last week I discovered a variety new to me, the Indigo Rose, which Preston Vineyards is growing on their farm. This tomato is fairly small, bigger than a cherry tomato but smaller than most Early Girls. Its skin is two-toned, a mix of very dark purple and warm reddish orange. At first glance, they don't even look like tomatoes but at first bite there's no question. They are not super sweet, they a have a fair amount of acid and a beautiful tomato-y flavor. I haven't yet cooked with them because I ate all that I bought. You'll find them at the Healdsburg farmers market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and, possibly, at the winery's tasting room.

The Indigo Rose and the Garden Peach tomato grown by Nancy Skall of Middleton Farm have been my two favorites this season, though it's been a great year for local tomatoes. I haven't had a single bad one and I've brought them from every tomato vendor I've seen at every farmers market I've visited.

So, to the point of today's column, what's the best strategy for enjoying the harvest now, right this minute?

First, it's canning season. Canning has become enormously popular in recent years and hardware stores are full of all the equipment you need right now. If you have tomatoes or have a neighbor with tomatoes, get to work! You can also get great deals, especially toward the conclusion of market days, from vendors who might not want to lug unsold boxes of tomatoes home.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of actually canning tomatoes, you can sear them over an open flame, pack them in sturdy plastic bags and freeze them.


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