It seemed to happen suddenly this year, the change from season to season. Light levels lowered quickly, the sun no longer high in the sky and more of the garden shaded for longer periods.
Around Labour Day, as was my habit through August, I lay in bed at night, all windows open, hoping for at least a slight breeze to reduce the stifling heat. Just a day or two after, I was reaching for a hot water bottle to sleep comfortably. I knew more warm days would follow, but hints of chilly weather had begun, as had the full-on “squirrelly” season in my food garden.
At the end of August, earlier than I expected because of the shortened warm growing season, the first ripe Discovery apples fell to the ground, a sure sign that it was time to test-harvest the small trees.
This involves lifting an apple up a bit and moving it slightly to one side. If it detaches easily from its fruiting spur, the apple has matured. No pulling or tugging, lest the fruiting spur be damaged.
Another sure sign of ripeness: Cut open an apple. the seeds should be black.
With the first apple picking, I began making apple pie bases to freeze for winter use. Last winter, I ran out of them. Not going to happen this winter.
The process is quick and easy. I slice the washed apples into freshly squeezed orange juice with a little vanilla added, and use a slotted spoon to lift the slices out of the juice and into lightly buttered aluminum foil pie pans, which I save and re-use from year to year. The apples, frozen and unmoulded, fit into a pie shell.
My first pie with the new apples was a favourite: apple custard pie, made easily by pouring the recipe ingredients over apples in a pie shell. The next custard pie I make will combine apples with blueberries, a favourite flavour combination.
1/4 cup sugar (more if desired)
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
Blend smooth and pour over apples. Top with slivered almonds and dust with cinnamon and sugar (I use coconut sugar). Bake, covered with foil, one hour at 375 F and another 20 minutes uncovered.
Many are the apple delights yet to enjoy — apple cake, apple clafouti, applesauce.
The discovery apples have been lovely this year, nicely sized with bright red skins and red-flushed, juicy flesh that makes a rosy coloured applesauce. On slicing the apples, I’ve come across practically none of the browned tunelling that indicates apple maggot activity.
A warning. Every year I receive accounts like the one Elspeth sent along recently: “Please spread the word about the toxic sap in donkey-tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites). I pruned my plants without gloves and got sticky sap on my hands. When I washed afterward, I missed the backs of my hands and, later, rubbed my eyes, causing intense pain.
“Off to Emergency, where I had my eyes flushed. Returned the following day because I still had pain and was unable to see. Diagnosis: burned corneas. I was referred to an ophthalmologist who initiated treatment. Thankfully, my eyesight has returned to normal.”
To varying degrees, the milky sap (latex) within the stems of all Euphorbia species is toxic and can result in intense inflammation of skin and eyes. When working with these plants wear gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and eye protection.
HCP plant sale. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. In Saanich, is hosting a Fall Plant Sale for HCP members and volunteers on Friday, Sept. 23. The sale is open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Select from a large selection of plants propagated over the spring and now ready to be placed in gardens. All plants will be reduced by 25 per cent with further discounts in the Bargain Bin. Garden admission is free during plant sales. Staff, volunteers and the Victoria Master Gardener Association will be on hand with advice on plant choices. Come early for the best selection. All proceeds from the sale support the development of the HCP non-profit teaching gardens.
Fall is a good time for planting. The combination of warm soil, cooling temperatures and rainfall nurture speedy rooting and settling in before winter.