Sometimes I’m asked why I spend so much time gardening, and making preserves, and canning and freezing my garden produce. Why bother with a garden at all? I have chronic pain issues from several health conditions. Wouldn’t it make more sense just to buy from the store?
Maybe it would. The more I do, the more I hurt. There’s a fine line between keeping my body as active as possible and putting my body through more stress than it can handle. I cross that line on a regular basis. And then I pay for every infraction. So why do I do it?
One of the reasons I make preserves is that it seems to bring me closer to my mother, who passed away some 15 years ago. She learned to can out of necessity. My father was a logger who only worked seasonally. Mama canned and froze the garden produce, and she also took advantage of the bounty around her. She found abandoned apple orchards and picked apples for applesauce and apple butter. She made blackberry jelly every summer, after we picked gallons of berries. I remember the competitions between my siblings and me–who could pick the most berries by the end of the allotted time. I remember the laughter when my father out-picked all of us. I remember his stories about picking cotton as a kid.
When I use Mama’s “cone colander” to juice my berries, I remember all the times she set it up on the yellow and chrome kitchen table. She let my sister and me take our turns when we were little, and when we got older, it was our job. I remember the scent of warm blackberry juice filling the house on the days when she made jelly and put it up in old peanut butter jars. I remember the taste of blackberry jelly on my peanut butter sandwich. I remember my mama, her spunkiness, her gentleness, her strength, her wisdom, her love. She taught me to can, gave me both my water bath canner and my pressure canner when I married, but she taught me so much more. It’s good to be reminded of those lessons.
Both of my grandmothers used water bath canners, and I’m sure their mothers made preserves in open kettles. When I make jam or piccalilli or pickles, I know that I’m doing something my pioneer foremothers did. I like knowing I have their “know-how.” I feel proud when I see those multi-colored jars on my shelves. I feel self-sufficient, knowing I can go out to the pantry whenever I want to and choose between six different jams or jellies, or a jar of beet pickles, or a jar of dilly beans, or a jar of venison stock. And it all came from the garden, the forest, or the field, and through my hands. That makes me feel accomplished in a very practical way.
I like having home-canned goodies to give away. When I give a jar of jam or relish, I’m giving a part of my heart and soul to people I care about. Part of my annual Christmas gifts to my children are boxes of the good things they grew up eating. Last year, everybody went nuts over the salsa. My sister has her favorites, piccalilli and tomato and raisin chutney. I also give jarred gifts to friends for birthdays, and as thank-you or hostess gifts. Recently, as a bridal shower gift to the dear friend who gave me my favorite canning book, Canning For a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff, I offered a box of assorted preserves, one of which was Cabernet Sauvignon jelly, a recipe from the book.
After a long day of canning, does my back hurt? Yes. And my hands, and my feet, and my neck, and sometimes my shoulders too. But my heart feels good. My soul has been fed. All kinds of sweet memories reawaken. That’s why I bother. It turns out, all things weighed and measured, it’s really no bother at all.