Cheryl Hughes: Protect and Preserve
It’s that time of year again. You know the time. It’s the time when you call your friend, Carol, and ask, “Do you need some tomatoes? I have some Romas, and they make great salsa.” And she asks, “How much do you want for them?” And you say, “I don’t want anything for them, just come get them before I set fire to the field.”
She does come get them. I don’t set fire to the field. Crisis averted.
Canning Season. Those words strike dread in the hearts of even the most veteran preservers of summer produce. I’m in the middle of salsa and tomato juice. I rotate between the two so as not to completely burn out. I can feel myself nearing the edge. I try to distract myself with NPR. When the radio no longer holds my interest, I put on Christmas CDs. I love Christmas, mainly because there’s no canning involved.
Yesterday, I resorted to bribes. “If you get that canner going by eleven, you may watch, not just one, but two episodes of that new British mystery,” I tell myself. The canner was boiling happily by eleven, and, unable to drag myself from the chair after two, I watched a third British mystery.
It doesn’t help that I have to maneuver around buckets and baskets and dishpans just to get access to the sink so I can start again. I make the effort to clean everything between batches, everything but the kitchen floor. I try not to look at it. The area rugs in front of the stove and sink are unsalvageable.
Sometimes, it gets too much for me, and I busy myself with other household tasks, like checking the Monster Trapper to see how many bugs I caught the previous night. I count them: 3 flies, 2 moths, 1 willow fly and countless gnats. I empty the haul into the trash can, somewhat pleased with the catch. These are dark days, you look for encouragement where you can get it.
I do have those days when even the reward of extra British TV isn’t enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Like a parent with an errant child, I resort to threats. I remind myself that the okra and Crowder peas are on the cusp of exploding into bushel baskets full of even more vegetables that need to be put up. “You don’t want to still be in the middle of tomatoes while you’re dealing with okra and peas, do you? Well, if you don’t, you had better get in that kitchen and get this done!” I say, in my most authoritative voice. That usually works. Thank God for those little bunnies that ate all my early green beans. The replants have just started to bloom, which will give me just enough time to deal with the peas and okra.
Even after the tomato juice is canned, I find myself fretting over a lid that hasn’t sealed. All the others sealed, why didn’t this one? Maybe, it did seal, but it just doesn’t look like it from this angle. I get down to eye level with the lid. No, it hasn’t sealed. I wait a few minutes longer, resisting the urge to push in that little rise in the center, thus sealing it myself. That rarely works. The jar knows you rushed the lid, and it comes unsealed just to spite you, ruining the contents within. I will wait.
A rush of relief comes over me when I hear the POP that signals the jar has sealed. It can now join its friends in the pantry.
I’ve got about five more weeks of picking, peeling, shelling, breaking, cutting, juicing, canning and freezing. I know the reward for all my hard work will come this winter when my family and I are enjoying the fruits of my labor. Right now, however, I really miss my weedeater.