I fell heir to a few
apricots this weekend. Too many to eat before they ripen beyond fit for human
consumption, I chose to make some apricot jam. It was my first food preservation project since moving to Montana. It seemed like a good idea,
however, locating my canning supplies was a bit of a challenge. I found the
essentials but had to improvise as my canning funnel and bottle lifter were no
where to be found. As I spilled hot jam down the sides of my jars and dripped
it on my floor, I was reminded that sometimes it is okay not to preserve
everything one can scavenge! I've had these thoughts before and even shared them with my readers.
I married a dairy farmer and soon learned that one of my
major responsibilities as a farm wife would be to can and preserve fruits and
vegetables for the coming winter. Having avoided these activities for my first
twenty-five years, I was apprehensive of the tasks at hand. To my surprise, my
initial experience proved a joy rather than a chore!
As our strawberry patch began to show signs of a harvest, my
husband of just six months had a hint he was fond of using. “Soon, you’ll be
able to make strawberry jam!” When the day arrived, I rolled up my sleeves,
gritted my teeth, and plunged into my duty. As I stood stirring the thickening
jam, I remembered Grandma Nelson—or rather, Grandma Nelson’s Back Porch. There
was an old manual washing machine in the room we referred to as the Back Porch.
Grandma had been afflicted with a stroke and her ten children shared the burden
of caring for her in her own home. I can remember my mother washing clothes in
that old machine when we stayed with Grandma after her stroke. My favorite part
of Grandma’s Back Porch was an upright freezer. On the racks inside its door
were bottles of strawberry jam. I can’t recall what other treats it contained;
probably a trout or two from Teton Creek and some frozen corn. I remember
opening the freezer door and touching the jars with my fingertips. I would hold
my fingers against the glass until the frost melted and tiny windows revealed
the red goodies within. Mom would catch me and growl at me for keeping the
freezer door open, just as I now growl at my children for similar offenses!
I make strawberry jam every year. Whether I have five jars
in my freezer or twenty-five, I complete the ritual. It has become a tradition
for me. In a way, it helps to preserve my memory of Grandma, and of Grandma’s
house, for each time I stir my strawberry jam I recall the first time I made it
and the memories come flooding back. I will always keep frosty jars of
strawberry jam in my upright freezer just as there were always frosty jars in
Grandma Nelson’s freezer.
Not every canning project is as rewarding or goes as
smoothly as did my strawberry jam efforts. Over the years, countless bottles
have refused to seal, bushels of fruit have spoiled before the task was
completed, and dozens of filled jars remain on my shelves because the family
just doesn’t like canned peaches and pears anymore. They never did develop an
appetite for the carrots and new potatoes I bottled just because I could. There
are those items that remain unidentified because, as a beginner, I wasn’t wise
enough to label and date the lids. They will never be eaten, but I am reluctant
to dispose of them as I am confident they took much effort and time that I
didn’t have to spare.
Red onions are abundant, free, and pretty. I thought it a
good idea to save some for a rainy day. Having located a recipe for Vinegared
Red Onions, I filled three dozen pint jars. I have only opened one. The pink
onions were nasty! They lost a little color as they were processed, but the
onion and vinegar flavors became stronger, too strong to use as a garnish,
condiment, or main dish! They aren’t even worth using as a decoration, as the
color has continued to fade to a dull brown.
I have streamlined my canning and preserving efforts over
the years. I now strive to devote my time, talents, and cash to things that
will be of use such as: green beans, pickled beets, apple pie filling, and
frozen corn. Oh, and strawberry jam, because not only is it of sentimental
value, it has become a staple in our diet. My family might perish without a
freezer full of strawberry jam!
What about you? Do you have a food preservation experience that made you question the wisdom of the project? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Running Granny Green encourages women, especially grandmothers, to gain greater fitness by providing tips and inspiration to insure long years of joyful grand-parenting. The cookie recipes are a bonus! Happy Running! Carol - aka Running Granny Green