I’m in a tomato jungle, peering under leaves and vines like a scientist in the Amazon searches for new insect species. But I’m just looking for ripe tomatoes. The wet conditions and wind this spring caused nearly all of the tomato trellises to blow over, so our forty tomato plants lie in a tangled heap. The plants themselves are quite healthy, but the un-trellised fruit is heavy, so the tomatoes all rest on the ground, under a three foot canopy of nightshade greenery. It is this greenery that I have to wriggle through to pick tomatoes. My arms, cheeks, dress and even my prayer covering become coated with the green oily dust that tomato plants like to rub off on folks that get too close. I have some cousins in Wisconsin that raise greenhouse tomatoes, and they have green fingernails nearly all summer, from that tomato all that stains so bad. Any gardener who has toiled many hours in the sweltering heat nurturing their plants does not want to see the fruits of their labor go to waste. So they will often engage in an ancient activity whose whole purpose is futuristic: food preservation.
Folks that can, or home-preserve the harvest in any manner, don’t do a lot of number crunching. That’s because it isn’t really about saving grocery money. It is entirely possible that, if we. would figure in the true costs of our supplies and equipment, plus make an accounting of our time and its value, the food we home-preserved may be more expensive than some of the bargain buys you can get at warehouse grocers. However, preserving home-grown produce is more feasible for farmers who have access to more land and time than they do cash. Most importantly, home preserving gives us a control over the quality of our food. By being able to can the freshest produce that was grown according to our standards we could potentially have the same nutrients in one jar of corn that the commercial processors have in two. Not to mention, ours will taste better.
My mother has never had to buy new canning jars, because some were received as wedding gifts, others were handed down from my great-grandma, and some were purchased from the rummage sales. Thus there is a wide variety of canning jars, having been the accumulated over so many years and locales. The majority of the jars are brand name Ball “Perfect Mason” and the un-branded mayonnaise jars. But Kerr “Self-sealing Mason” is represented quite well, and there are a few just plain old Mason Jars, and Golden Harvest mason, as well as a few Bernardin jars and some attractive Atlas “Strong Shoulder”
The chickens think canning season is like Christmas in July. All of the seeds, peelings, cores, and stems that can’t be used are thrown to the hens I don’t know why anyone would choose a garbage grinder or even a worm-composting bin for garbage disposal when they could have a pen of chickens. When I walk out to the hen pen carrying a bucket of scraps, the hens all rush around like the President has Just paid them a personal visit. Now, I am sure the in-Sink-Erator never has such displays of enthusiasm for your presence, and the worms are too shy and quiet to voice it if they are excited about your garbage gifting. But when you toss them the stuff that everybody else has rejected, the hens truly believe you have given them a treat. There’s hardly any rotting vegetable or fruit that the hens won’t gobble. They waited several days though, to eat the over-grown okra pods that we tossed them. Okra must be the limit.
The tomato crop has teen reduced this year, due to the odd weather patterns, but we have rustled up enough tomatoes to can sixty pints of pasta sauce and a few quarts of tomato juice. If we had more tomatoes, we would make salsa, because our pepper plants are thriving. Instead, we have pickled the jalapenos, banana peppers, okra and red beets as well as some green beans. Pickling vegetables is incredibly easy, and you get a lot of return for your effort. We’ve been canning green beans and a little bit of corn as well. This makes for long days spent over steaming kettles of water with hundreds of jars to wash, sticky floors, and counters piled high with dirty dishes. But it’s the oddest thing instead of being burnt out on cooking and canning, I keep getting excited thinking about more things to cook up. I really want to make some fresh mozzarella to go with the pasta sauce, and I have some changes to a caramel flan recipe I want to try. We have an excess of cantaloupes that I want to try making a salsa with as well. Even though these all spell more dirty dishes, I know I’m going to try them anyway, because creativity yields more creativity- I don’t know why “canned” is the word used to describe something that is not unique. Personally, I think it should be “tinned”. But then, perhaps I am not canning, but “jarring,” which still has a negative sound to it. While it doesn’t take my breath away, (that will come later when I haul them all down to the cellar) the sight of a line of sparkling glass jars filled with colorful vegetables is one of the most satisfying sights that I can think of. The jars of vegetables and fruits, of salsas and sauces that I put into my pantry contain the toil of my hands and heart. I have taken a raw form of beauty and changed it into another form while still retaining and even enhancing the beauty. This is not creation, but creativity. You can see on the shelves in our cellar rows and rows of produce glistening in jars. That is my creativity, canned.