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Posts Tagged ‘preserves’

I just finished processing the last of seventeen jars of four-berry jam (currant-blueberry-raspberry-cherry) in my canning kettle.  I’ve had the blue kettle, with it’s now-rusty jar rack, for years, and it’s the same one my mother had.  Hers was just like the one her mother had — the one I remember when we visited the farm in Cuddebackville, New York.

Canning is not easy.  I realized, only after I had prepared all the fruit for the jam, that I didn’t have enough jar lids — or, for that matter, enough jam jars — to handle what I was making.  So I sent Ben off to the store to buy jar lids (and more sugar).  Turns out that almost no one knows what canning jars are, or dome lids, for that matter.  After a bunch of calls, I found that one of the four supermarkets in the area had the lids — but they had already closed for the night.  At 7:15 this morning, I was at the store, sweeping up a couple of flats of jars and three boxes of lids, so as not to run out again.

I fear that putting food by is a dying art.  The bounty of the season is coming in right now.  I suppose the stores may view supplying canning supplies (including paraffin, pectin, and even drying racks) as competition for their prepared foods, but to me, this is a matter of reminding all of us where food comes from and what it means to eat healthfully. I bought almost all the fruit for this jam at the local farmers market, knowing that I was supporting local agriculture and getting food that was not processed – most of it organic as well.

Ben asked me today why I do this, and it’s a good question.  I didn’t grow the fruit myself and it’s not cheap – although the cost of ingredients makes it about 1/3 less than what I would pay in the supermarket for the jam. It takes a lot of time and last night, a lot of sweat as well, to make your own preserves.  But I know exactly what went into this jam, and there are no additives, no corn syrup, no preservatives.  It’s got three ingredients in it:  fruit, sugar, pectin (if you count the 1/2 teaspoon of butter that went in to reduce foaming while cooking, make that four ingredients).

I support local farmers wherever I can, a tribute to my grandfather and all who work to grow our food.  I want my children and our family to remember that food is sold in grocery stores, but it’s not grown there. And pretty soon I will be harvesting my own produce, and I’ll be thinking about what I can ‘put by’ for the winter from the garden:  dilly beans, perhaps, or tomato jam.

For the big-ticket canning that I’ll be doing, however, I’ll be buying local.  I just talked to my best friend Connie, and we compared notes on what’s coming in in western Montana vs. the northwest Boston suburbs.  She’ll be making cherry jelly and putting cherries by in a crockpot, along with sugar and vodka, to have delicious cherry cordial in the winter.  Even though she’s made dozens of jars of rhubarb jelly already, there will be a second crop, along with raspberries, which are starting to yield now.

Here in my area we’re starting to see local peaches, and that may spur me to make some of my Gram’s recipe for peach and cherry jam, or my own spiced peach preserves.  In a few weeks, the rest of the canning will commence:  bread-and-butter pickles, and a run at my Gram’s oldest recipes, which date from her mother:  corn relish and chili sauce, which our family always ate on the New York-style baked beans (less molasses than New England style) that were a regular feature of Saturday night suppers.

When I was a kid I remember my father, who grew up poor in the tenements of Newburgh, New York, going downstairs to the basement as the winter set in, to the fruit cellar he had built to hold my mother’s and my canning efforts.  He’d organized all the jars of red, green, yellow, orange, purple by color and type.  He would smile, survey the jars and say, “Well, we’re ready for the winter.”  That was all he needed to be comfortable as the snow began to fly.

Life is good.  In the kitchen behind the table where I sit, I hear the ping of the dome jars sealing.  My hard work has been preserved for the months to come.  Some of this will go to friends and relatives, some will go to our store room downstairs, waiting to be opened up for biscuits or even the best peanut butter and jam sandwich you could want.

Sometimes I joke about being a “pioneer woman,” but after a morning of canning, I do feel like I have that spirit.  I’m not putting the canning kettle too far into the back of the closet, because I’ll be dragging it out again soon.  The summer’s in full swing, and I’ve got my jars ready to go!

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