In a lovely ironic twist, our small yard in town came with a beautiful, resilient backyard apple tree. This tree, despite this spring’s numerous late frosts and our total early season neglect, managed to produce a tremendous harvest of tart/sweet goodness that we have, for the most part, finally finished picking (much to the chagrin of our neighborhood squirrels).
Our garage smells sweet and musty, like the apple farm I grew up on, and the kids have to navigate their bikes past several hundred pounds of apples, stored in random used moving boxes and leftover bulb crates from the farm we just sold. We will keep a crate for fresh eating, and the rest we are working to turn into applesauce and hard cider.
I told myself, when we moved into the house in June, that this year would be my sabbatical from canning. Canning and freezing food has, over the past five years, become an expression of faith for me. . .a kitchen project I believe in, even enjoy, despite years of warnings from certain feminist writers that the kitchen=oppression. Enter the apple tree and cancel the sabbatical. I can’t let these beauties go.
In the midst of a canning day, I often declare that I understand why women, for the most part, gave up on canning. Most of the time, I happily lose myself in the repetition of the process. However, the hot steam can become oppressive fairly quickly on a 90 degree September day, and I have been known to make certain declarations on canning days.
“I will never peel another tomato as long as I live! This is stupid!”
“That giant crate of apples, those four hours of my life, and I only got 7 quarts of applesauce!? There is no justice!“
Of course, every year, after these declarations, there comes a hush December morning when I open one of those jars of goodness, of food we nurtured and grew from tiny seeds in the heat of summer, and simmer it into something nourishing and delicious to fight the chill of the snow and cold, and I feel blessed and grateful to my summer self for muscling through it.
I have help, of course. On the farm, the kids harvested and helped process so much of their own food that our boy, when dining at our friends’ house, once asked, “Is this dinner organic? Because I only eat organic food.”
Luckily, those friends have a wicked sense of humor and chose to tease us mercilessly about that for years, which is much better than if they had chosen (justifiably) to be offended.
This year, the kids helped pick the apples, and they helped run the nifty hand cranked peeler/slicer/corer machine that keeps apple projects efficient. And I suppose that this is one of the reasons I persist with the canning, that it sends a message of frugality, and self-sufficiency, and stewardship that I want the kids to internalize.
Canning is a way to plant that seed in the next generation, to cultivate the importance of earth and water in a generation immersed in tiny screens and satellites. And now, like the farmer I like to think I still am, I have to patiently wait to see what kind of harvest they reap.