About this time of year, I get the urge (or is it the instinct?) to put food aside. I don’t know if it’s from my pioneer days (in spirit at least) or from something else. Anyway, I have about 3000 jars (and that’s only a little exaggeration) of preserves, pickles, salsas, applesauce etc. that I’ve canned so far this summer. Add that to the 2000 jars that are left from last season’s canning and I could probably open a store. . .
When the weather is it’s hottest is when I get the urge, and my kitchen becomes a sweltering processing place. Sometimes I work into the night to take advantage of the coolness of the evening. Sometimes I get up extra early. Yesterday I was making Tomatilla Salsa. Today I wanted to make Watermelon Rind Pickles. Do any of these sound mouth-watering? I don’t know, and that’s not the point — I am driven to can them.
My mother did a bit of canning when I was younger, and that’s probably where I got the bug. Speaking of bugs, I studied Microbiology for my master’s, so I have a good sterile technique which is important if you want to live and can.
But at the back of my mind there is another nagging thought. That I am “putting up” food because of a different reason entirely. Yes, I am attracted to the walls of preserves and jarred salsas with their pretty little labels in the grocery store. In fact I linger there longer than I should, savoring the enticing concoctions. Yes, I believe that sometimes I save money by canning. I even know that produce canned in glass jars lasts longer than produce in metal cans. Maybe even up to 10 years, if you look at some websites. But that isn’t it.
I am driven to can because, at the end of a canning session, I have something tangible to put on a shelf for another day. A jar of pickles on a shelf stays, in an orderly fashion until it is called upon. There is nothing else in my life life that — no matter what I do, it seems like everything in my house becomes undone. The floors get dirty right after you’ve swept them. The laundry never stays clean and folded or ironed. The dishes pile up in the sink, and the dinner that you spent an hour on, is consumed in 5 minutes. The clean-up takes longer . . .
My pioneer self thinks I’m canning so that there is something to have for later, but I really am preserving a moment that goes way too fast. A moment of order, that’s attached to a fleeting memory: the juiciness of blackberries fresh-picked with my family. . . the smell of simmering salsa accompanied by my son saying it’s the best salsa he’s ever tasted (and he’s tasted lots and isn’t prone to buttering me up) . . . the excitement of my 6th graders mingled in the cinnamon applesauce I canned after we made and ate some in class . . . the sweet stickiness from blueberry pie shared with family and friends. Each moment is preserved in a glass jar — something that doesn’t disappear.
I was searching canning books on Amazon just a few minutes ago, and there are so many! I found one that is out of print, but that people continue to rave about. It’s called Fancy Pantry, by Helen Witty. Costco is carrying three canning books right now and there are stands of canning equipment/jars/etc. in my grocery stores. It’s not just me who wants to slow time. To preserve a moment in a life.
I am hoping to share some recipes with you in the days to come. We can make our own Simply Fancy Pantries. And fill them with slices of order, splashes of memories, aromas of the moment.