Flash in the Pan 

Plucking zee nectar

I’m standing at my buddy’s booth at the Farmer’s Market. A seasoned woman with sparkly eyes is examining his French filet beans, with the air of someone who has just found something very special. She buys all his beans, intending to freeze them for year-round cuisine. “You plant zee right seeds,” she says, with a thick French accent.

Down the market, a small stand is selling enormous peaches, grown in Paradise, Mont. As far as I know, this orchard, aptly named “Forbidden Fruit Orchards,” is the state’s only peach orchard. Excited shoppers were buying peaches by the box for freezing and canning.

Here we are at the apex of food season, this blissful moment of inertia on the cusp of Indian Summer when the agricultural bounty is more diverse than ever, summertime crops overlapping with the fall crops. And remember that garden you planted in May, tended in June and abandoned in July? It’s still alive with surprises you forgot all about.

Meanwhile, at the stand of Home Acres Orchard, a few of their more than 20 apple varieties are ready, and the people are clamoring. Montanans are people of the apple, and we know what to do with them. Soon it will be time for cider, pie and pork chops with apple sauce.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the market, Dr. Chuck Jonkel (aka The Man Who Whispers to Grizzly Bears) is sitting with his needle and thread, stringing purple bachelor buttons and orange marigolds into leis, or flower necklaces. Here in Montana, where flower season whizzes by like oncoming traffic—and since flowers can’t be canned or frozen—the lei is the epitome of carpe diem. Right here, right now. Strike while the iron is hot. Get leied.

Yes, now is the time to pluck zee nectar from the fleeting blossom of summer, before the season whips into the transition of autumn—and we all know where autumn leads…So, as Janis Joplin advised, get it while you can! Pluck zee nectar and relish its divine fragrance; pluck zee nectar and stash it away for the months ahead, when you’ll need a splash of summer against the advancing gray. Whatever your personal favorite is…freeze it. Freeze grated zucchini for baking; freeze huckleberries; freeze tomato sauce.

When you freeze green things, like beans, kale, broccoli and chard, don’t forget to blanch them first, in small batches, in boiling water. After you blanch, dunk the greens in cold water, drain and freeze in airtight plastic bags. The rule of thumb is to blanch just long enough to turn them neon, but don’t take my word for it. Every home preservationist needs a reference book with specific guidelines for each type of food. I myself use Stocking Up, from Rodale Press.

Now is an especially good time to stock up on basil, which is bolting as we speak and will wilt at even the rumor of frost. Here is my new favorite way to store basil, which I learned from a book called Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes.

It’s called pistou, and it’s a version of the ultra-popular pesto. But pistou is simpler than pesto and less hassle to make. And what’s nice about it is that six months from now, when you want pesto, all you have to do is take your pistou, add some pine nuts and cheese, and maybe some more garlic…and presto! It’s pesto!

And if you don’t want pesto, but you do want to spice up that coconut and turmeric curry, a spoonful of pistou allows you to stay in Southeast Asia, rather than yanking your dish to Italy like pesto would.

With a large mortar and pestle, or in a food processor, grind up basil leaves, adding a pinch of salt. Mix in some really good olive oil and spoon the mixture into small jars, making sure that everything is covered by a thick layer of oil. Put lids on the jars and store in a cool place. According to the book, basil can store for a year like this.

Unfortunately, most home economists and county extension agents now agree that the oxygen-free environment created by the olive oil creates growth conditions perfect for Clostridium botulinum, aka botulism.

So, although they have been doing it this way in the Old Country for hundreds of years, you might want to freeze your pistou instead. Some people freeze it in ice cube trays, and then transfer the frozen portion-sized nuggets to plastic bags for long-term storage. If you go the freezing route, then you don’t need a thick layer of oil on top.

Some people like to add garlic to their pistou. I add maybe just a tad. Honest. I think it makes more sense to add the garlic fresh, down the road when I’m using the pistou.

Pesto, pistou, peaches, French filet beans…You’ve been warned. Now go, pluck zee nectar, and freeze and can it while you can!


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