Tonight I did something that I’m a little afraid of: canning. I am a fermenter, I deal with “salt to taste” and adjust the temperature by finding the right location in the house at the right time of year. I correct errors by skimming off the top layer and weighing the whole concoction down with a wine bottle filled with water. Fermenting is a forgiving, and an inherently experimental process. The science and precision of canning intimidates me. I have never done it on my own, and last week I was so intimidated by the “canning set” in the grocery store that I just walked away, still empty handed when it comes to canning essentials.
I was initiated into the world of canning tonight by my friend Elizabeth. Her grandmother is the one who inspired the writing of these daily reports, and now she has helped me overcome my canning handicap, while also making me dinner. I don’t know how I will thank her… Well, I brought her some fresh-caught salmon backs and one of the best peaches I have ever tasted, because that’s how a locavore shows her love. Perhaps the joy of contributing to my survival will be enough, for there is nothing more sacred right now than the ability to prepare and store food.
Elizabeth welcomed me to Ukiah with a tour of her lovely sun-blessed garden, during which we picked thornless blackberries and harvested some fresh veggies. For an appetizer we had McFadden Brut with blackberries dancing in the glass, while we chopped things for the canning adventure. I wanted to do Mexican style pickles, savory and spicy. We also experimented with some pickled beet stems, which I’m really excited about – I love it when discarded, compost-bound components are reincarnated into unexpected eats. And, it really wasn’t that scary (though she did warn me that this is not to be done barefoot – while standing before the boiling pot with bare feet).
Once the jars were carefully placed in the boiling water bath, she dined me with a wonderfully garlic-y garden gazpacho, seared salmon backs, and cucumber/goat cheese niblets. It was a lovely evening of womantalk and food conspiring, and I left with a bunch of colorful jars of pickled goodness. I asked Elizabeth to share the dummy’s guide to canning with me so that I can remember all of her helpful tips, and of course share them with you. She promised she would, so stay tuned for that.
I confessed that one of the big challenges of this time of year is that survival is relatively easy, especially compared to the first few months of the project. Local abundance surrounds us now and indulgence has replaced compromise. However, it’s hard to shift into remembering that we must also be working triple time to put food away for the leaner times of year. It all seems so far away now, but the seasons’ ebb is real and winter was pretty barren. So, it is up to us to process enough food to keep our pantries vibrant and diverse throughout the year. It has been challenging to shift into this mindset when we just want to lay in the sun and gorge on stone fruit.
Elizabeth’s artful efficiency and infectious enthusiasm over the sound of every popping lid has inspired me to confront my canning block, and try to integrate this ritual into my daily life, before summer’s bounty disappears as quickly as it arrived. There really is no room for fear when it comes to this undertaking. If we had doubted that this was possible, for even a day, we wouldn’t have set out to do this in the middle of winter 7 months ago. Fear means hesitation, which means waste, and the opportunity cost is great. We have again and again had to circumvent fear or discomfort with resourcefulness, and ask questions when we need help. It is a humbling and rich process. So, canners, I’m curious – what’s your favorite thing to pickle/can? Share your recipe! Bizarre and unusual concoctions are especially welcome!