Plum Wind

plum wine and picked peachesWind makes the shadows skitter and tremble, dappled on the ground in the afternoon as the breeze picks up in the garden. Although a recent record-breaking heatwave largely missed our little part of California these last few weeks, the literal and metaphoric atmosphere is tense, as unsettled weather stirs the vast currents that encircle the globe. Things are changing, everywhere. Wind is rising, drying the soil, whipping the leaves, carrying news and pollen, smoke and dust from afar, while elsewhere it manifests as monsoon, flooding, wild storm surges. Past predictions mingle with future projections; the long term forecasts can paint a chilling picture despite the warming temperatures. The wind keeps gusting, dancing the shadows, fanning the flames of change, even as it carries, too, the sweet scent of blooming buckeye and azalea in the evening, or the ripe scent of some fruitful harvest; tomato leaves in the sun, a bowl of fruit on the counter. We can’t help but breathe it all in, savoring the sweetness despite the particulate worries that cloud the air. Tomatoes swell and gather color, and stone fruit is abundant; the inland valley heat has brought so much sweetness to nectarines, peaches, plums and apricots this year. Take note, if you haven’t already, of the grilled stone fruit recipe we posted a few years back; impressive and easy and utterly delightful. Take note, if you haven’t already, of they way humans have been adapting and changing for all of our short time on this earth, trading spices and saving seeds and tending fruit trees. Let that same breeze, born of rising heat, cool the back of our necks as it passes. Let it carry us forward into an uncertain future, with grasslike grace.

The wind reminds us restlessly that change is inevitable. It tugs at our hair as we stand at the shore, scuds the clouds quickly across the horizon, lashes the Pacific waves to whitecaps. The grasses bow as the wild surge passes over them, whipping its way to our small mountainside plots. Seaborne breezes are funneled up the coastal canyons, up the top of Empire Grade, spilling down into the San Lorenzo Valley and beyond. The grasses remind us to bow to change; to bow, and spring up again in its wake. Grass bends and bows beneath the trunks of stone fruit orchards, shimmering, already a dry and pale gold home to grasshoppers, a foraging place for birds. We bite into peaches, apricots, nectarines, and let the juice drip onto the gleaming straw.

The wind knocks ripe plums off of the branches, tender skins full to bursting with such sweetness. We gather the fallen fruit in a gathered skirt, in overfull hands, in an empty basket, in anything we can find, and carry it into the house to begin the alchemy of fermentation. Plum Wine is this week’s featured recipe, and just in time for the winds that knocked an abundant harvest off of the trees last week. Perfect, perfect; a foamy mix of ripe fruit and wild yeast, sugars and microbes and centuries of co-evolution, all dancing in an effervescent roil before settling into wine that will remember the taste of summer come winter.

This is the very essence of preservation. Canning, dehydrating, fermenting and the like, are all processes that humans have learned to use intentionally over the ages, as a way not to cheat time, but to extend it, to draw it out; to make it sweeter, more rich, more nutritious, more intoxicating. Learning how to extend and preserve the harvest, to keep it viable over the winter season, has been key to our evolution as a species. Some might even say that elective intoxication, or the dance that nears and draws away from that intoxication, but loosens tongues and inhibitions, has also been a key to our evolution. Who are we to say, what the role of such ferments and spirited summer creations has meant to The Species As A Whole? That much speculation is beyond the purview of our little newsletter. We do know that such rituals as this; gathering the fallen fruits, inviting the wild yeast to act upon it, bottling and then decanting the finished wine later; feeds our spirit in ways that feel both ancient and salient, even in these modern days.

If alcohol isn’t your preferred method of preservation, the season is ripe and methods of preservation abound. Plums, particularly, can be dehydrated whole, made into fruit leather, cooked into jams, incorporated into sauces, or made into vinegar-based shrubs. Experiment, as we humans have always done. Or, if you want a shelf-stable product, find a time-tested recipe to follow. We know of a sweet little website that has many such recipes posted…