It's a lovely, albeit smoky, Sunday evening. I'm in my office for a few moments while I listen for the telltale "pop" of canning lids sealing to glass jars.
For some reason the canning bug has bit me this season. I have no idea why. It comes and goes and honestly, I haven't canned much in years. This summer I seem to be pulled by some unseen source to stand over a boiling hot stove in mid-August weather. Crazy, right?
First, let me apologize for getting couple of weeks behind. I took a quick vacation to the east coast to see some friends and then spent another week trying to get all the last-minute back-to-school chores done. Haircuts, well-child checkups, sports physicals, orthodontist visits and what seemed like hours and hours at the dentist's office. Everyone is polished up and ready to begin the school year tomorrow. Although I'll miss having the kids around I'm glad to return to the ebb and flow of the school year. In two years, they'll all be out of school and away at college or their own adventures. I won't complain about the hectic world of parenting this time of year. Time just goes by too fast.
Anyway, back to canning.
My step-mother taught me to can many, many years ago. It was just how you spent August and September. I never really minded it, but back then I couldn't imagine that I'd be doing it. I was pretty well convinced I'd be a busy television executive somewhere with no time to hover over glass jars and hot liquids.
But, about 20 years ago, I found myself being drawn to the process again. I took a class or two through the University of Idaho Extension System. (These classes are now available online, ) I had a great time and met some lifelong friends through the program. Over the years I've collected all sorts of equipment and accepted any offer of mason jars. Some years, it's all I can do to get a few pints of strawberry jam made. (It's what I give my husband every year for Father's Day) This year I've done apricots, peaches and am currently working through pickles and plums. We've grown some of the products here on the farm. Others, I've purchased from local farmers.
When it's in the high 90s outside, I have questioned my sanity more than a few times these last few days. I'm lucky to have a canning kitchen separate from the main house. This keeps the heat and mess away from the rest of my life. I used to can inside our kitchen. Then one day, it was over 100 degrees outside and damn near that inside while I was canning pickled beets. My husband walked in after a day working outside in the heat and asked me to get the pickup with a rather exasperated look on his face. We made our way to the local sporting goods store where he purchased an outdoor two-burner gas stovetop for me. I did my canning outside until we moved. This property has two houses. So we live in one and the second is my guest house and studio. It's over 100 years old and I know plenty of jars have crossed through this kitchen. The previous owners told me their root cellar had caved in years before. So somewhere in the yard 100s of jars are buried.
Food preservation is apparently coming back into style after being an art reserved for farmers and survivalists. I cringe when I see some of the recipes floating around the internet. There's a bit more to it than throwing veggies in a jar and slapping a lid on it. It's not difficult, but it does involve some science. If you aren't careful you'll make yourself sick or worse. I recommend using USDA approved recipes only. Any local extension service will have them and so will the latest edition of the Ball Canning Guide.
I've been listening to audio books, new music, even watched a television program or two while I prepare fruits and vegetables to go into jars. This kitchen is too small for two people to work very comfortably, so I take the opportunity to enjoy some quiet time. There's a rhythm to the slicing and dicing, the loading of the jars. and spinning the ring on the two-piece lids. Once the jars are in the canner, I get cleaned up and ready for the next batch.
I imagine my grandmothers sitting on my shoulders giving me a helpful tip here and there. Again, it's those connections we've been talking about all summer. A line of canning jars tying me to my family members who canned out of necessity and not hobby. It's such a part of my family culture that when my father died, we put his ashes in canning jars. Canning is just what we do.
I love having control of the ingredients in the food I feed my family. I love preserving the crops we've grown over the summer. These pickles will remind me of the fun day I had with my daughter when we drove into town to pick them up from the farmers market. The plums? The laughter I shared with my son while trying to reach the top of the tree. I also love giving the jars as gifts throughout the year. Food tends to be my "love language" so if I choose to give someone a jar of home-canned food, it's because I want to share a bit of my home with them. Actually, it's more than that. It's a part of my heritage and it's part of our harvest. Two things we cherish around here -- so it's important.
One year, one of my husband's employees gave us a case of homemade jam. Each time we opened another jar, we thought about the time and attention it took to make the jam. It was appreciated, as was the employee who offered such a thoughtful gift.
I still don't exactly know what has drawn me to can myself crazy this summer, but I learned a long time ago you gotta follow your guts on this kind of thing -- so I'll roll with it. I guess in the least if we get snowed in this winter, I'll have plenty to keep us fed. In the meantime, I'll go check some seals and get another batch of pickles ready to process.
Hope you're well!
Blessings from the Queendom!