Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Can It!

I am almost embarrassed to admit that part of me still wants to title this post "A Fig to Thee!" That's so sad. It just strikes me as funny in a nerdy Lit Major sort of way. Ah, well...on to the story....
I am addicted to canning. It's crazy. I started canning jam about 10 years ago because we always went blueberry-picking up on the Blue Ridge Parkway every summer and I needed something to do with our loot besides blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins...you get the picture. So I started making jam...and it was good. I graduated to peaches and then to apple butter and eventually got into making some pretty tasty salsa, if I do say so myself (with lots of garlic and cilantro...not as spicy as my father-in-law would prefer).

I've done that same stuff more or less every summer for years. But this summer, I started experimenting. I had a bigger garden this year than I've had in awhile. And my mom has an absolutely awe-inspiring collection of antique cookbooks. So using a combination of the internet and a bunch of pickling recipes from the late 1800's (using measurements such as "a teacup of sugar" and "a lump of alum the size of a walnut" etc.) I started making a bunch of fun stuff.
So far this season, I've done chow chow, dilly green tomatoes, kosher dill pickles, dill pickles (those are for my dad), salsa verde (TONS of tomatilloes this year!), peach salsa, peach jam, peach chutney, pickled jalapenoes, pepperoncini, tomatoes, pickled onions and today, the aforementioned figs. I still plan to get a few blueberries and, of course, make some apple butter...maybe a bit more peach jam before all the peaches are gone for the year.

There are so many cool things about canning -- besides its obvious edgy rock star appeal, of course. Here are a few reasons to get canning: 1.) If you keep your jars from year to year and grow your own produce, it's a great money-saver. 2.) Homemade stuff tastes amazing (unless you are a horrible cook) and there is nothing more uplifting on a miserable, grey February day than to break out a jar of last summer's goodness. 3.) It is a huge ego-boost to give someone a jar of your jam and have them gush about how crafty and smart you are to make YOUR OWN JAM! and...4.) possibly the most compelling reason...The jars look incredibly beautiful lined up in your pantry.

I will admit...after I can a batch of something...after the sticky, infernal mess is finally cleaned up and the canning stuff put away...my favorite, favorite thing to do is...is...is...to fondle my jars. Yes. I am a jar fondler. I love to pick them up and examine them, hold them tight. Ahhh...my riches. I feel rich in preserved food. Lining them up on the pantry shelf is a ritual. Each jar is carefully placed and admired, moved around, admired again. Is this just me? I think not. Surely everyone who invests the time and energy into growing, picking, cleaning and preserving a harvest feels this way.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the way august is...

This is such a dragging-your-feet month...It is the end of summer. School is about to start. The garden is on the wane and, believe it or not, many of us are already stressing about holiday travel plans and such seemingly far-in-the-future questions as how we're going to make it through the financial and emotional crush of another long winter.

I love August. I love the fat, hot August moon. I love the slow evenings in the backyard with bonfires and conversation, snacking on green beans we just pulled from the vines. But it always feels like the end of a lovely thing.

Of course, part of this is a seasonal thing, but it is also, sadly, imposed by the school schedule. This annoys me no end. When Birch was very small, I always saw us as homeschoolers. I wanted our learning to ebb and flow with our energy and the seasons and the demands of our lives. But things turned out differently for myriad reasons and here we are kowtowing to the aggravating and unforgiving demands of "tardy policies," "vacations" and "attendance policies" that are set by people in suits that are far and away from the rhythms of our lives here in our little urban farmstead paradise.

Now, I hesitate to complain, mind you. Really, we are incredibly fortunate because my son is able to attend an absolutely amazing environmental charter school with a curriculum that comes straight out of my most Earth-conscious, peace-mongering, community-loving hippie dream. His teachers are phenomenal, dynamic people that constantly challenge the students to question what they are taught and search for their own answers. Every week, they go on amazing field trips to hike in forests, camp out, raft rivers, investigate natural areas and artistic communities, etc. But still...

Part of me wishes that we could homeschool...that we could create our own learning system. School has been such an enormous benefit to my son, that it would take a huge leap for me to pull him out of that wonderful learning community. I have a lot of soul searching to do as Veda approaches school-age...