Thursday, September 4, 2014

This is not about writing...

I wanted to be up front about that just in case anyone wandered in looking for author type stuff. This blog is about being an amazing pioneer woman/catch, I mean, canning things. Yep. I can things. So far, mostly jam. But today is salsa day. Yum!

We have a huge area near us that is full of blackberry bushes and we picked tons and tons of blackberries over the month of July. Now, just in case you've never been blackberry picking, and have visions of wandering through a beautiful sunlit meadow with a wicker basket, let me break this down for you. Blackberry picking, while extremely rewarding, basically sucks. You have to put on long sleeves and pants, and I recommend rubber knee boots. Because blackberry bushes have thorns, large ones, that will scratch your skin. And our blackberry bushes grow wild, which means in a jungly tangle, amidst other weeds, and trees. Also, the grass is really tall and there are snakes (hence the rubber boots). Although I only saw one once which is awesome since I froze for a full fifteen minutes afterwards and then had to pep talk myself into continuing in that direction. And it's Illinois in July, so it's hot and humid and sweaty, especially since you are wearing all those damn clothes. And we get so far back in the patch that you can't see us, and we get tangled up in the vines, and bitten by mosquitos, and fight with spiders, anyway, it's not particularly fun. I think it's the sense of accomplishment that keeps us going. (And by "us" I mean myself and my daughter, Molly, when she's home, and my niece, Madi, when she's here; don't even think that Mike is picking berries.)

But as Molly, Madi, and I were discussing once while picking, we all evolved from tribes that basically hunted and gathered. And women were the gatherers. So being good at it, fearless in the face of the heat and (sort of) danger, fulfills some deep need in your evolutionary core. I told Molly that since she's a good gatherer, a good gardener, and births babies easily, she'd be quite a catch in her tribe.

So we picked many times over the month (once in the dusk and rain, talk about difficult and spooky), and gathered a shit ton of blackberries. The boys ate a lot of them. Who knew toddlers could pack away so much fruit? We made some cobblers, some blackberry shortcake, and then I decided to make jam. Now, I'd only made jam once before, in England when I was about 13, with an elderly neighbor lady. We made black currant jam and it was awful. So my knowledge of jam making and canning was almost nil. So I turned to the internet and by toggling between a few sites learned what I needed to know. Then I bought canning supplies. Hello, expensive. But since you only have to buy the pot and tools once, it's worth it. And then I made jam.

First you have to rinse, smash, and cook the berries. Then you spoon it into jars, leaving headspace, getting out air bubbles, putting on lids, and then bathing the jars in a hot water bath. And that's the part that worried me--what if they didn't seal right? What if I gave everyone botulism? But they did, and I didn't, and I heard the satisfying "ping" of lids sealing very clearly. So I made more. I ended up with three batches: Blackberry, Blackberry Cherry, and Blackberry Blueberry. It was delicious. So much so, that I went from this:

To this:
Way too quickly. I sent some home with my parents. I sent some home with my niece. I sent a jar to Sean. I gave a jar to the neighbors. And then Molly and Luke took 5 jars with them when they left. But, because I'm a nice person, I offered a jar to my mailman yesterday. And it went like this:
Mailman: (handing over three boxes of books) Here you go.
Me: Thanks so much for bringing them to the door.
Mailman: No problem.
Me: Would you like a jar of homemade jam?
Mailman: (Huge sigh) Thanks, but my wife makes jam. She made so much we're trying to get rid of it.
And he left. What?? But, but, you don't understand. I don't have much left so my offer was not me trying to get rid of it, but me being really generous. It's my first jam making. It needs to be celebrated!! Don't turn down my jam!! But he did. And then he walked back to his jeep. And I felt this odd sense of rejection. Although, if I think about it, he may think I'm slightly odd, and well, I wouldn't take jam from someone I thought was odd either. It's like taking candy from strangers.
So, in closing, I've thought a lot about the amazing feeling of accomplishment I got from making and canning homemade jam. Cooking always fills me with a sense of "rightness" and accomplishment. And I think it's because I grew up in a family (and extended family) where that's what women did. We do the cooking, and it's a way of showing love and taking care of your family. And I know that a lot of folks today will think that's old fashioned and silly, but frankly, I don't care. For me, fixing a meal and having everyone at the table will always be my happy place.
And learning the art of canning, which I know isn't that big of a deal considering women have been doing it for centuries, and with far less convenience than my modern kitchen, still filled me with a sense of wonder and an amazing satisfaction. And maybe it's because I joined those ranks: I can grow a garden, I can make food, and put it away for later use. I can make sure my family is fed from my own labor. I rock.
Also, I can make a mess:

And clean it up.
Today, I'm making and canning salsa with tomatoes and peppers from my garden. Because I can. And also because it's yummy.
What do you do that gives you that amazing feeling of pride? Seriously, I want to know!


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