Friday, July 17, 2009

Canning Lessons

At the end of last summer, I took a course at a local farm on canning and preserving the harvest. Winters in Minnesota are rough, to say the least, and a spoonful of local fruits and vegetables in the dead of a near sunless February can mean the difference between survival and gauging out your own eyes with said spoon. I did not imagine myself doing much freezing and processing this winter until a friend showed up at my doorstep with a trunkload of canning jars a mere two weeks before my sister's sour cherry tree went into glorious fruition.

I pillaged the tree, pitted and cut the cherries, washed the mason jars, filled giant vats of water, and set them to boil on the stove. Soon, I had all four burners going for sterilization, cooking, and processing. Such projects are best done with the husband at work or otherwise away from the house. The kitchen grows quickly hot and humid and the male disposition is not well suited to such conditions. Besides, canning is best done with a heavy dose of either solitary meditation or womanly gossip.

I followed the directions in The Blue Book to a "T." It warns to not mess with the proportions or to even try doubling the recipes. When botulism is a danger, I tend to do what I'm told. I was, however, a little disappointed that my batch came out to less than half the amount the recipe promised. Still, I plunged them into the roiling bath and set them to process for ten minutes.

I'm sure the seasoned canner is more nonchalant than I about this, but I still wait close by in anticipation of the little pop that will indicate that a can is sealed. The instructor in my class had warned that sometimes the seal doesn't take until after the can is removed from the canner and starts to cool. Still, the moments of pop-less silence are filled with a minor dread. Did I do it wrong this time? Am I going to have to store all of these jars in a refrigerator instead of neatly lined up on the shelves of our canning room? Will I poison a gift recipient?

But I should have more faith in the women who canned before me and who wrote gospels like The Blue Book. There's nothing that hasn't already been tried. And, in the case of preserving food, that's a good thing. The gentle pops started as soon as I pulled out the cans until each shiny lid was dimpled. I should remember the next time I can: everything worth doing involves a dash of risk and a whole lot of faith in the ones who came before.

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