Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Can I Can? I think I Can...

Me as soon as we're all settled in our new place. Image found here: 

As the weather gets hotter, Readers, a certain, strange urge begins to overtake me.

On my lunch hours, I will haunt Pike's Place market, looking for the best prices on dill. My Internet search engine history will show "jars and rings for sale," "you-pick tomatoes", and "jar sanitizing without a dishwasher".

Readers, I am becoming obsessed with Canning.

This is not the first time I've been overcome by a need for good, homemade pickles, Readers. It appears as if I am (at least) a third generation "Canner"; both of my grandmothers canned anything they could get their hands on, and my mother would "put up" homemade pickles every summer when I was little. Our basement walls would always be lined with colorful jars of pickles, tomatoes, dilly beans, vanilla, and jam.

While growing up in Wisconsin, this was (at least, it seemed that way to me as a kid) the norm for people. EVERYONE I knew canned their own food. Why on earth would anybody buy pickles from the store when you could make perfectly good ones yourself at home at a fraction of the cost? IT'S A COLLOSAL WASTE OF MONEY!

I've done a bit of canning on my own, Readers. One summer while I was in high school, I decided that I was going to make my own pickles. With my mother's watchful eye over my shoulder and my grandmother on the phone for moral support, I washed the cucumbers, sanitized the jars, boiled the lids, prepared the hot water bath, packed the garlic and dill, and after a hot, steamy afternoon (oh, GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF THE GUTTER!) I had two dozen jars of garlic dill pickles that would be ready to eat come Halloween.

Obviously, living in downtown Seattle presents a challenge to this would-be Canner. My mother and grandmothers (ESPECIALLY my dad's mother, who has a legendary green thumb) all have ridiculously amazing gardens that produce baskets and baskets of beautiful vegetables. For them, canning is almost a necessity; any produce that's not eaten fresh HAS to be processed otherwise food gets wasted.

I'm allowed a small "P-patch" in my apartment buildings courtyard, but this is literally only about a square foot of space. Luckily for me, I still have access to amazing and inexpensive fruits and veggies; I live within walking distance to Pikes Place market, AND the Capitol Hill weekly farmer's market. John and I also have a Costco membership.  Even if I have to buy my fruits and vegetables, I can still satisfy my urge to Can.

Another challenge, as I've written before, is the size of my kitchen. My kitchen is TINY. As in microscopic. Space is needed if a scatterbrain like me wants to can fruits and vegetables safely. This is just a sad reality of having a short attention span; my workspace is constantly cluttered with dirty dishes, papers, and whatnot,  but I'm certainly not the first Canner in my family to be easily distracted. I will clear out and sanitize my counter, dining table and even the computer desk, if I must. (My future husband, by the way, is completely supportive of my canning antics. Just so long as I don't get garlic on his laptop).

Organization of time is going to be another hurdle for me. The jars and rings need to be sanitized and organized just so, the brine/liquid/alcohol needs to maintain a certain temperature and pH, and once your cucumbers/tomatoes/beans/whatever have been packed into jars, you need to get the liquid in, lids on, and get those jars in the canning kettle ASAP or you run the risk of Botulism (a form of food poisoning that can literally kill you).

Having an itty-bitty working area and a short attention span is going to be a challenge for me. HOWEVER, I know that I am not the first to be faced with these problems. If I need to cut my canning down to 3-4 jars at a time, then so be it. If I need to get a buddy or my fiance to help me, then so be it.

Canning is a skill that I think is way overdue for a comeback. Being able to know what EXACTLY it is that goes into my family's food will make the prepping, sanitizing, boiling and stewing well worth it.

Aside from my inner granola grinning smugly, I get a strange sort of power rush when I am responsible for making my own food. I got this same rush when I picked vegetables from my garden, and still do when I knead bread dough, or when I make my own barbeque sauce.

Come what may, I can feed my family. Come the zombie apocolypse, alien attack, freak snow-storm, pandemic-du-jour...we will have food that we can trust is not loaded with God-knows-what and that tastes good to boot.

Until next time, Readers!

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