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Squirrelling food for winter

Winter squash are beginning to appear in local farmers markets, as fall blows in on hot, dry winds.

It is not western Oregon’s usual autumn welcome, which tends to be all wet. Not only is it not wet, but fire danger has been at critically high levels.

The good news is summer crops have been lasting remarkably well, giving those of us who may be a bit behind in our preserving some chance to catch up. Which is why I found myself turning my attention recently to pounds of tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos, along with the more usual-for-October apples. Those of you who might be canning or freezing for the first time, you haven’t yet lost your chance to put up a pantry-full of winter foods. Action needs to be taken now, but there’s plenty of produce still available.

A cupboard filled with jars of tomato sauce, roasted marinated peppers and tomatillo salsa makes me feel ready for winter storms. Readier, anyway. Preparation seldom feels completed; there’s always something else being added to the bottom of the list, as you cross projects off the top. Such as the need to update the evacuation kits in the living room closet. They are, at least, fairly complete, but it’s high time to go through them, supply any missing items, evaluate the age of the foodstuffs and rotate as needed, and to wash and refill the water bottles.

September is squirrel time: weeks of preserving everything in sight, to be sure we’re well and truly set with winter provisions. October is time to take a deep breath, and go about whatever didn’t get done in September, and to evaluate. Are we prepared for power outages, cold nights, rising food prices, windstorms, rain and snow?

In the garden, if the overwintering garlic, onions and shallots haven’t yet been planted, now is the time to get it done.

In the pantry, it’s time to set aside the winter’s supply of squash, potatoes, onions and roots.

Suppers are beginning to feature baked acorn or delicata squash now, mashed potatoes, spaghetti — cooler weather foods.

And, of course, it’s still harvest time. Grapes, apples and pears are all ripening. Quinces, at least the ones on our tree, have a way yet to go. And so we will find ourselves in the coming weeks pressing grape juice and cider, drying raisins and apple slices, along with a few last herbs, simmering applesauce and apple butter, perhaps canning a batch of vanilla pears, or making fragrant, nutmeg-spiced pear butter. A batch of cranberry sauce would be nice, too, and some canned soups, for quick suppers on busy nights. The last of the basil still is around, perfect for mincing with salt, or freezing in cubes, or making pesto. And perhaps I ought to decide on a recipe to use up green tomatoes, of which there are presently an abundance.

On second thought, with all this work laid out, October does seem to be another squirrel month. But there’s always November to look forward to.

Nicole Montesano can be reached at

Squirrelling food for winter

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