My kitchen feels the smallest during two events of the year: preparing a full-on Thanksgiving dinner and canning summer fruit. Thanksgiving has many bits and pieces to time, baste, whip, season, and get to the table while still hot. The reward for such work is a plate full of comfort. Canning is different.
Canning foods at home goes two ways: water bath canning and pressure canning. Low acidic foods require canning under pressure to make sure no bacteria, especially deadly botulism, is able to grow in the sealed jars. Fruits, including tomatoes, contain enough acid to kill such nasty bacteria, allowing for the use of the less-daunting water bath canner.
Canning begins with produce. This end-of-summer I canned cherries, pears, peaches, apples, applesauce, and many tomatoes. Gurus recommend using only fruit that is ripe and blemish-free. Procure jars, lids with rings, and a water bath canner to have at the ready. It is necessary to use only jars made for canning, free of cracks, and those with chip-free rims. The jars must be washed, then sterilized in boiling water. Use new lids each time as their seal will only work once. The lids and rings will sit in a pan of simmering water until needed.
The ensuing activity becomes a sort of ballet: removing peels, cores, and pits from the fruit, keeping fruit from discoloring, filling jars still warm from their hot water cleanse, adding boiling liquid to cover the jarred fruit, wiping rims, placing lids and rings but not too tightly, setting jars into the warm water of the canner, careful to place on the canner rack to avoid any chance of jars breaking, finally covering the jars with 1″ – 2″ of hot tap water and the canner lid. While the canner boils for 45 minutes, the peelings are composted and I wipe the fruit juice-covered counters clean.The processed jars then rest on some layered towels to allow for cooling and to make the satisfying ‘pop’ of a sealed lid.
All of that for 7 quarts of pears or tomatoes to eat in January.
Unfortunately, you can’t have a jar of peaches and eat it too. Thus the difference for me between canning and Thanksgiving. A prepared meal is always eaten immediately. Preserving summer foods for use in winter creates a commodity, a thing on the pantry shelf, something that if I could buy a like product I most likely couldn’t afford. I don’t want to consume the fruits of my labor.
The flip side to this feeling is one of abundance. I look in my pantry to find very local, seasonally prepared, minimally processed with no sugars added food. The ridiculously steamy September kitchen, the tension of timing, the fear and sometimes reality of broken jars, the neglect of everything and everyone else for a few hours, the labor, is all completely offset by giving such a gift to my family and myself. The little hiss of the broken seal each time I open a jar is a small whispered prayer of gratitude.