Embracing the Autumnal Equinox—Florida Style
As of a few hours ago, it is officially Autumn. The Fall Season and I have a history, and it is not necessarily a good one. I admire the turning of the seasons, love the warm colors that symbolize it, adore pumpkins and even like the surfeit of pumpkin spice goodies in moderation once it truly is Fall. However, the blitz of autumnal celebration and anticipation that begins earlier every year seems to me a little much. The fact that I live in Florida makes it even more difficult to embrace the warm fuzzies that Autumn has become synonymous with. When sweat is trickling into your eyes and down your back as you toil in the garden, its hard to get worked up about sweaters and hot cocoa.
That said, there are signs that Autumn is actually here (Central Florida) aside from the fact that I filled some of my patio pots with gold and bronze marigolds and lantana. We have had several nights lately when the temperature plunged into the lower 70s and the humidity has begun to trend blessedly downward as well. Florida Cracker that I remain, in spite of living a good deal of my adult life in other places, I can glance out the window and see the difference in the quality of light. The lengthening shadows speak to me of the sun’s leaning toward the south, and the coming of shorter days. There is a brittleness to the sunlight as the year winds down. That is as close as I can come to describing what I observe this time of year. I have tried to explain it to people who have come to Florida to live from other places, but they just shake their heads and cannot fathom. I think that places can get into your bones and blood, so that you feel the rhythms of the land and the seasons without conscious thought.
The Fairy Rings of toadstools that are beginning to spring up around the yard, and which will increase in size and number as the next month or so goes by, are a sure sign of Autumn here. The revival of plants and flowers exhausted by the heat and humidity of July and August herald the shortening and cooler days also.
Along the front of the house, the shady beds and the window box still flourish, spared the worst of the summer sun. They too, are already beginning to resume rampant growth and looking perkier now that the heat is moderating. Autumn is prime gardening time in Florida. While other gardeners put their plots to bed and prepare their flowering perennials for dormancy, the Florida gardener has reached one of the busiest times of her/his year.
Gaia and I have, because of personal concerns as well as the heat and humidity, neglected the garden and Garden House quite sadly during the latter part of the Summer. We are picking up the pace now though, and enjoying the fact that it is not quite so brutally hot.
There is not a lot to harvest just now. I was getting a surplus of summer squash and Japanese cucumbers, but during the rainy stretch of weather late summer brought our way, I did not keep up my regimen of weekly organic spray on the plants, and they have largely succumbed to the ravening insect marauders which seem to peak here in the early and late parts of summer.
I do still have a number of pepper plants of various varieties. One of my prettiest is a datil pepper I picked up last spring from the Arboretum Nursery just down the road. These are an extremely hot pepper, but with a sweet flavor that makes them popular for hot sauce. I picked quite a few when we were out cleaning up the flower beds and pulling weeds on Monday.
On Monday afternoon, after washing and draining the little golden-orange jewels, I sterilized a syrup bottle that I saved for reuse. After trimming any long pieces of stem, I cut a tiny slit in the side of each pepper and packed them in the bottle. I also put in a few peppercorns and a little garlic powder. I put enough vinegar to fill the bottle in a non-reactive pan on the stove to simmer while I got them ready. I brought the vinegar almost to a boil, then poured it over the peppers, filling the bottle to within an inch of the top. Voila— southern style hot pepper sauce. It will both strengthen and mellow as it ages. The bottle can be topped off with more vinegar until the flavor of the peppers is spent. This is the simplest sauce there is, requiring no refrigeration and no special equipment. Enjoy over collard greens, spinach, black-eyed peas, or anything else you want to hit with some tangy heat.
Welcome to Fall— Florida style. Drop back by anytime…