Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Life Lessons Learned from Canning . . .

It's that time of year again. Time to dust off the canner and wash up the Kerr jars. The garden is in overdrive, and we can't eat it all fresh.

First of all, let me just say that I do not look forward to canning. I even wrote myself a note in my cooking/garden journal. It's dated February 2007 and says, "In the winter you never wish that you had canned less produce." I guess that I was enjoying the bounty that we'd bottled and wanted to pre-empt my natural tendency toward giving produce away instead of canning it. It's too early to be sure, but I think my note just may help this year.

I guess you could say that when it comes to canning, I make mountains out of mole hills. I build the job of food preservation up to be monumental -- heavy on the mental. In early spring gardening and canning sound great. In March when my hubby was thumbing through seed catalogs, I specifically requested that he buy cucumber seeds that would be good for eating and pickling. When it came time for planting, I told him to plant three hills so that I’d have plenty to pickle, but by the time the first few cukes were ready to eat, my desire to can them had evaporated.

My hubby made the mistake of asking me when I was going to actually start making pickles. I gave him "the look", a lecture about him having too many expectations for me, and the romance in our marriage went right out the window. Canning and cuddling don't mix.

But that was weeks ago, and as I write this I'm happy to report that we have 21 pints of dill pickles down on the basement shelves. And strangely, it wasn't that hard. Nothing like I'd imagined it to be.

As the last pints were processing in the hot water bath, I found myself ruminating about the possible parallels between canning and life. Here's what my recent bit of canning has taught me:

1. Most things aren't as difficult as you think they're going to be.

2. Many hands make light work. Instead of canning pickles alone (and feeling sorry for myself), I asked my husband to help. It went great! We enjoyed quality time canning. Never thought I’d say that, but there you have it. When my husband isn’t handy, I’m going to include my kids. But for the really involved canning, only a good canning buddy will do. (Look out Linda, I’ve got out the canner!)

3. Don’t leave out the sugar! Last year Linda and I tried something new. We made applesauce without any added sugar. I like it, my kids tolerate it, but it doesn’t store well. I bet a third of the bottles I bring up from the basement have started growing mold right at the top. And the bottles are perfectly sealed. I’ve begun to think that families, like applesauce need a little sugar (laughter, fun, goofiness) to keep them properly preserved. Take the sweet stuff away, and just like applesauce, family life goes South.

4. Sugar goes with salt. I did fresh-packed cucumber pickles, and the main ingredients for the hot liquid you pour over them are water, vinegar, sugar and salt. I guess I was a little surprised by the ratio of sugar to salt. I mean, you expect pickles to be salty, but my recipe called for more sugar than salt. That got me thinking. I figure that salt could be a metaphor for tears/sadness and sweat/work. The hard facts of life. And what I learned from making pickles is that you don’t have to take the lumps and bumps of life straight. A little bit of sugar does help the medicine go down. Work is important, but you can mix in a little fun with it too. Pain and sadness are inevitable, but nowhere is it written that you can’t try to laugh. (Side note: My neighbor is fighting cancer and has taken some low blows. At one point she was on oxygen and a feeding tube. On the day they were able to take off the oxygen she exclaimed, “Look! I’ve got one nostril with nothing to do.”)

5. You can’t rush time. Because we’re at a high altitude I had to add 10 minutes onto my pickle processing time. And according to the experts at the county extention office, time is important. You have to keep the water boiling for all of the allotted minutes. Life is no different. There’s no need to rush. Bad situations will soon end. Good times come and go too. So enjoy the present!

There you have it. Life lessons I learned from canning.


scienceteachermommy said...

You are a tough gal to can. We have done freezer jam, but that is the extent. Plantboy has big vegetable garden plans for this yard next year, however. He grew up with a canning mother and it may be time for me to bite the bullet and start. I am sure I'll be asking for lots of advice.

julie b. said...

Another benefit to canning-- lots of time to rumminate about life lessons, eternal ramifications, and healthy living.

Every year I am amazed by how few of my friends can anything and how more of them are opting out of canning each year. My friend that's a bit older and wiser than myself (she's 68) called me to see if I wanted two bushels of tomatoes. Being the glutton-for-punishment that I am, I accepted the offer and hunker down for a long day. When she brought the tomates over, she told me how she had called over twenty women in our neighborhood trying to get someone to take her extra tomatoes (she had another bushel) and no one wanted them. She was dismayed that no one canned anything anymore. She had even called families she knew were tight on money, and they had turned her down.

Now last time I checked, no one has paid me for my hard work and free was still free. I bottled 9 quarts of spaghetti sauce, 15 pints of salsa, 9 pints of pizza sauce, 14 quarts of tomatoes, and 12 quarts of vegetable soup from those tomatoes. All of the ingredients I used for the recipes came from my garden. Now, I'm thinking that free is great, and a little hard work never hurt anybody.

Each year I try to can or grow something new. Now since my gardening skills struggle quite a bit, it's usually the canning that gets creative. My favorite thing to have in bottles on my shelves are beans; black and pinto. Fresh "refried" beans with no fat, your own spices and no added preservatives beat any other beans-in-a-can I've ever tasted. Give it a try