The heat hit me like a tether ball, straight to the face. It was late summer and our house wasn’t air conditioned, so seeing my mom leaned over a huge pressure cooker, boiling like a cauldron—it’s an image indelibly stamped in my head. She was focused and everything seemed to be boiling. The pot, the glass jars, the pot with the lids, her forehead – it was all one giant, heaving process that required me to get out of the way.
I remember sitting at the doorway to the kitchen so I could catch gulps of fresh air just beyond the sauna while still watching her as she worked quickly. Freshly cut vegetables from our garden lay around the countertops for mere moments before being shoved into hot jars that were immediately submerged in the boiling bath. Filled canisters came out and new, empty jars went in. Large popping noises filled the air as everything sweated in one glorious process that I never truly appreciated until now.
I started this summer with ambitions of following in my mom’s footsteps. And my grandmother’s footsteps. And my great-grandmother’s footsteps. As the older gentleman who helped me scan my Ball jars at the store reminded me, it’s something of a lost art. So even though food prices are at an all-time low, an amazing meal at a local restaurant this spring with pickled ramps inspired me to see if I could carry the canning baton through to the next generation.
Yes! I can. Kind of.
So the inspiration was two-fold. After our insane pickled ramp experience, I was walking out of the library and saw a book that called to me, so I checked it out. And when I found what glory it contained, I bought it. And then I bought a bunch of seeds and planted my garden around things I wanted to pickle and can.
We live in the woods with only a limited patch of our yard allowing for partial sunlight, so I had to plan around that. I planted dill and pickling cucumbers, beans and carrots, cabbage for kimchi and several types of lettuce for summer salads. Growing tomatoes and other amazing summer fruits and veggies requires at least eight hours of sunlight, so they end up in a miniature form when I attempt them here on the hill.
But it didn’t really work out as I planned. We grew about three cucumbers, A carrot the size of my pinky finger and a handful of beans. The bugs got to my cabbage and the lettuce worked out for a couple of salads…
So we went to the farmers market down the street. It’s the best little place – it’s not one of those places that are only open one day a week for a few hours. This is a market where families are hawking produce from their farms – one guy tends to the stand while everyone else hustles back at the property. I can stop in at the four stands anytime of the week and they call you by name. And the food! Insane flavor, crazy reasonable prices. I bought three pounds of jalapeños for $2.
Ready to fulfill my candestiny, I went to the store and bought a giant black pot with white speckles all over it that’s specially designed for canning. Then I picked up some Ball Jars, because worst case scenario, we have a bunch of extra pint glasses for that yummy keg of Truth sitting downstairs. Fifty bones in, I was committed.
That Sunday, I went to town. I started with jalapeños and Dilly Beans, anxiously following the directions and fearful I hadn’t moved quickly enough to create the perfect seal. The veggies go in, then the brine. Pop the tops on, drop it in the water and then VOILA!
Remembering the popping tops from my past, I anxiously waited to hear the noise that signaled success. But there wasn’t anything.
How did I eff this up? I called mom. I conducted 500 internet searches. Anxiously, I pushed the tops down before the suggested hour passed and they stayed depressed, but did that mean they were really truly sealed?
They were sealed. We could enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of summer now ANYTIME.
We cracked open a can of the jalapeños and guys, they are SO GOOD. So before the summer flavors end, I want to can and pickle EVERYTHING. I froze some corn to enjoy once the snow covers the ground and yesterday, I got a little more ambitious and delved into the relish world, but I am so hooked. What an amazing way to ditch the preserves and feed your family healthy, amazing tasting food year-round! Please, send me your favorite canning recipes! And if you’re on the edge of jumping into the canning world, DO IT!