Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Together "We" Can!

I finally proposed.

Yes--never mind that I'm already married and so is she. I told my next-door neighbor that, if ever I take a wife, it will be her. Just to put things in context, I was over because we were making and canning salsa. I use the term "we" loosely because: (1) I have never and will never can a darned thing on my own; and (2) I only filled the jars--all the sterilizing and prep and equipment and know-how were provided by the better half of "we." To be fair, the one gallon of tomatoes listed in the recipe were provided by yet another "we," my husband. (Did I mention I don't garden, either?)

Consider Mrs. Neighbor's pickles
While we peeled and chopped and measured and stirred, I got to hear about the marinara sauce Mrs. Neighbor made yesterday and her brilliant idea that she would stock her niece's pantry with home-canned foods as a housewarming gift(!). Then there was the new quilt she had pieced recently that she wanted me to see. And the table-full of overflow from her thriving garden. It was sickening how much of a pioneer woman she was. I would either have to marry her or kill her.

The salsa came out beautifully. I think the gallon of tomatoes yielded eleven or so jars. Because the onions and jalapenos and cilantro came from the Bellevue Farmers Market, we know exactly what went into each jar--and exactly what didn't.

My neighbor didn't used to be such a one-of-a-kind treasure.

My husband remembers canning season growing up. His mom would ship him and his siblings to the grandparents and then, in their absence, get down to business. She put up pickles, peaches, applesauce, and jams. She froze pies by the dozen. What else would you expect from a woman one generation off the farm, whose parents had been through the Depression? Preserving food was what you did.

But canning is experiencing a resurgence. With the down economy, more people want to put food by when the putting's good. Homegrown fruits and vegetables that might have been left to rot on the vine in past years now find their way, with a little effort, into jars and freezers. My neighbor suspects she doesn't actually save any money--she chooses to preserve foods for taste and health benefits. Industrially canned foods tend to be high in sodium, and the fruits and vegetables are not spray-free unless they are labeled Organic.

As we come to the end of the berry season, this might be your last chance to go out like a pioneer and put by some local, seasonal strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries. If canning sounds daunting (and if you don't have a pioneer woman to glom on to), consider buying them in bulk and freezing them.

Make it a community event and do it with a friend, as people used to.

But I've got dibs on Mrs. Neighbor.

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