My mom has this big worry that she will die and no one in the family will know how to preserve food. I think it keeps her awake at nights, or used to, up until Little B started showing some interest in the kitchenly arts. Not to be upstaged by my suck-up neice, I spent Labor Day weekend in my mom’s cucina, canning things.
Ok, technically, I jarred things and, honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I always think it is. But there’s a reason I hate canning, believing it to be akin to medieval torture. My mom has always canned stuff from the garden as well as things found in the woods. Nice, right? No, not when you’re forced into summertime slave labor and have to work your child fingers to the bone, peeling and chopping and cold-bathing fruits and veggies, all the while asphyxiating on the toxic fumes of pickle brine. Seriously, it’s a horrible past time, especially if you really want to be outside playing.
It was bad enough Mom sent us to harvest choke- and pin-cherries down in The Glen — She’d throw us out of the house with margarine tubs and tell us we weren’t allowed back until they were full. Chris would finish in half an hour, drop off his bucket, and go exploring. Noelle, Bedot, and I, though, it took us all day. Know why? Chris put his hand at the top of the cherry-laden limb and pulled downward, dumping everything into the bucket…leaves, twigs…Spike, but we girls, much like Mopsy, Flopsy, and Cottontail or whatever her name was, were very careful in our picking, taking only the ripe and juicy berries from the tree and leaving the shriveled ones, the green ones, the bitter ones for all our woodland friends. Also, we knew we’d have to sort through them later so may as well do the sorting first and save ourselves some time — Anyway, we harvested stuff and that should have been enough, but it wasn’t. We had to help preserve it, too, like we were Laura Ingalls Wilder or something. That, quite naturally, created within all of us a loathing of preserving food. I remember thinking it would be better to starve in the winter than to put up pickled things for those long, dark months. I may have been a slightly melodramatic kid. I really did hate canning, though. Even freezing became tainted simply because it was vaguely related.
Back to this weekend. I had a few extra zucchini hanging around (like a seven thousand) and Mom has a recipe for zucchini relish. Since she was going to have all the canning paraphernalia going anyhow, she asked if I’d like to come over to help her and also make some zucchini relish, myself. Being the amazingly dutiful daughter I am, I said, “Why, yes, that sounds…great.” I grabbed my zukes, along with my neighbor and her things-to-be-canned, and we went to put stuff in jars.
I want to make a big deal out of it, a tale of woe filled with blood and lost limbs but…it was really easy. And fast. Well, my relish was fast. My neighbor’s salsa was not as it was her first time canning ever and also my mom had never made salsa so it became a big experiment but the point here is, it wasn’t like I remembered. It wasn’t a torture session and I didn’t leave crying. I also didn’t get to help my mom with her canning because we ran out of time so I went back the next morning and we worked on the tomatoes. I remembered that I love peeling tomatoes! I could do that all day! (But only for one day out of the year; I wouldn’t want it as my career, or anything) We put up 5 pints of almost-overripe New Girls with basil and they look lovely. They’ll taste lovely when I make them into spaghetti sauce this winter.
So maybe this canning business isn’t as horrible as my childhood memories tell me it is. Maybe this is something I could do with my mom every year. I’d get to learn how to make her pretty-much-famous sweet relish which I could then add to my collection of heirloom recipes and maybe I’d even bump Little B out of that coveted Favorite Child spot in the process! (ha ha, that’s a little canning humor, there)