Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why Put Forth the Effort of Canning?

After a few days of processing  peaches, I managed to make 3 pints of ginger-peach jam, 2 1/2 pints of regular peach jam and 5 half pints of spiced peach sauce (It didn't gel enough to call it jam.). It looks like I still have enough peaches left to make a pint of chutney. Wow! That's a lot of peach goodness.

When we designed the kitchen it was with the thought that the shelf over the sink would hold our jars of preserves and pickles and such. So far we have 2 half pints of jalapneo jelly, 8 half pints of prickly pear jam (I've given a lot away), the aforementioned peach products, one pint of apricot jam, 2 pints of blackberry jam, 4 pints of bread-and-butter pickles and 4 quarts + 1 pint tomatoes. And we haven't even gotten to apple and pear season yet!

Once I began canning, I started to think differently about similar products I would see at the market. Making jam, or pickles or processing tomatoes in small batches got me musing about what that might look like on a much larger scale. I felt queasy imagining the volume of produce and other ingredients being manipulated in an industrial environment. Stirring my small pot of berries with a wooden spoon seemed right. How does it work at Smuckers? My thoughts moved to all of the things that could go wrong, or get mixed into the final product. Cleanliness and sterility is so important in canning and I feel good that I can control all of that and can see what goes into everything from start to finish. Some might argue that modern methods of processed food production are perfectly safe but I think I'll stick with small, handmade batches when possible.

Besides, seeing all those jars lined up on the shelves is like a chapter in our story. When I open a store-bought jam, I have no idea where the fruit came from and what kind of journey it had. I think this is why all of our processed foods have some pastoral fiction affixed to the side of the box or container. It gives us the illusion of having been to the farm or having stood at the kitchen counter seeing the fruit transformed into jelly. I know I've been tricked before: picturing cows roaming around a large, green pasture or well-paid farmworkers happily picking tomatoes on a warm summer day. Now that I've grown and processed our own food and have become more aware of how our food system operates, I'm not so quick to embrace those words and images on packaging.

Our jar of apricot jam, however, is the memory of two new friends we met during breakfast. They were on their way out of town that day and asked us if we wanted to harvest their apricots. While at their home we learned of her brain cancer and that their trip was to find an alternative treatment. We talked about gardening, how difficult it is for most Americans to buy a home and their plans to make that system better. We played with their dog and tried to keep her from eating the overripe (and probably fermenting) fruit.

I climbed into the tree, the branches getting stuck in my hair and picked an apricot. It tasted like sunshine.

Each of my little jars has a story and one that will make my morning toast that much more delicious.

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