Canning. One of my favorite hobbies. It’s the steps and the process I enjoy. Maybe I get that from my Dad. The odd step builder. Buying the fruits or veggies, getting out my jars, lids, rings, canner. Repetition. Hearing a jar lid pop puts a goofy smile on my face. I’m so proud of myself when I’m done, sometimes I leave the jars set on the counter for a couple days. Little soldiers in neat rows, wiped clean, all labeled. More likely than not though, it’s just my way of avoiding finding a semi-permanent home to store them.
|Strawberry jam. Storage is a huge issue…|
I’m giddy with anticipation as I drive to our fabulous Farmer’s Market. I’ve got the fruit and vegetable seasons down pat. Usually pretty darn close when I head to the market, what I’m looking to buy. Our market is big enough that I can shop around. I’m not above mentioning that it’s 1:30 on Thursday, how many more customers are they going to get, willing to buy a bushel of cucumbers or beets when it’s 85 degrees? Sometimes they give me a deal. If they do, the next time I’m at the Market, I bring them back a jar of their produce, canned by me. Gets ’em every time. They remember.
It began shortly after we moved to Michigan in 1987. I became infatuated with the idea of canning. I don’t remember my mom ever canning. My mother-in-law Mag did, but not anymore when this strange idea hit me. I know it was pickled beets and bread and butter pickles that got me started. Mom and I both loved beets, but store bought ones are just kinda blah. Diane, my first, oldest, and dearest friend since moving to Michigan introduced me to all the great fruits and vegetables this state had to offer. She’d haul me around and soon I was picking blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and apples. Diane had canned bread and butter pickles for years so I started helping her every summer before we moved to North Muskegon. Then I started doing it on my own. It’s her fantastic Bread & Butter Pickle recipe that I use. I’d like to think everyone loves them. Guess if someone hated them it would be really gauche to call me up and say, “Denise your pickles really suck!” Still pretty sure they are universally loved. Am I humble about my canning? No. Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure it’s Diane I should thank (or curse) for this kinky obsession. As Sonny & Cher used to croon, The “beet” goes on.
Ten years ago I started keeping a journal on my canning exploits. What vendor I bought from, quantity and what I paid. How many jars total, how long it took. When it became, ah, something more than a hobby, I started dreading the end of canning season. By November I was in a funk. Then I got the bright idea to freeze a few bags of smashed fruit. When I was in the throes of withdrawal, say mid-January, I could get my canning fix. Tis a sad life I lead. The upside, when we were having a truly-miserable-whiteout-blizzard, the kind where I can’t see the city across the lake, I’d can jam the whole day. Felt and smelled like July in the house. “Pump up the jam!”
Several years ago my canning peaked at about 1400 jars a year. Yikes! Sick! Holy moly! We’re 2 people in this house. Donated a couple hundred jars each year for United Methodist Women. They sell them on Sunday morning after church, then donate the money for mission work. Made a hundred Christmas baskets, using about 600 jars to give away, bringing the total down to a more manageable 600 jars. Still a lot to give away and use. After retiring, I knew I needed to make some adjustments to my “canning issues,” but it’s a learning process, and at times painful. When I’m at the market I have every intention of buying a half bushel of beets. How many pickled beets can I eat? Still I want to give some away, so usually when I leave the market it’s with a bushel, not a half. Happy-disturbed-sigh.
|Hot, very hot, pickled asparagus…|
When I started getting better and more confident, I tried canning new things. John likes hot-pickled asparagus, me not so much. But I like canning it. Only 2 things I can, the asparagus and pickled dilly green beans stand up straight in the jars. Looks so stinking cute. Soon I was ready to venture into canning meat. Had to have a pressure cooker and although I don’t use it very often, the results are worth it. Canned beef tastes like tender pot roast. I usually make it with tiny redskins and fresh green beans, then thicken the leftover meat juices. Yum. I’ve made boatloads of spaghetti sauce for 40 years and froze it until I got the guts to can it. Time consuming though. All the flavors just meld together better when it’s canned. Thank heavens I only do it once a year, cause it takes me 2 days. Start off with lean ground beef browned, cans of Hunts tomato sauce, (deal-breaker) onions, celery, mushrooms and spices. Divide all this up in thirds, cause it’s a lot, simmer for a couple hours, then jar it up and put in the pressure cooker for 90 min. Family favorite. My youngest son Adam is head chef at a fancy restaurant in Ann Arbor. Guess what he requests for supper when he comes home? My spaghetti sauce. Is it that good? Heck no, he’s just been eating it for 30 years. But it is good. Very good. How about The Black Eyed Peas, “Meat me halfway!”
Here’s a perfect example of how I get side-tracked with this obsessive hobby of mine. I was zipping through Meijer’s. Great chain of stores, think Walmart size-wise, throughout Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Big fat blackberries were on sale. Buy 10 half pints for a buck a piece, get the 11th one free. My plan was to buy 40, get 4 free and make half into jam, half into seedless jelly. I’m down to one jar of seedless jelly and a couple jars of jam which has been giving me heart palpitations. Waltzing through the (massive) produce section, I stop dead in my tracks. Red Raspberries right in front of me-2 half pint boxes for a dollar. Yes, you read that right-2 for a buck. Never been priced that low. Mouth goes dry, the palpitations are back, my breathing shallow. You would think there should be more pleasure involved when this happens to me!
This fragile fruit is usually priced about 3 bucks a pop. Ok, calm down, stop and think. I already have a couple dozen jars of raspberry jam at home. Geez, I need to lay down for a couple minutes (pant-pant). How do I justify buying un-needed raspberries when I came for, and desperately need blackberries? Where are those darn things anyway? Cautiously I leave sacred raspberry territory, scared they might disappear if I take my eyes off them for 1 second. Light-headed and feeling faint I’m distracted when one eye catches bags of cranberries sitting on a shelf. Hard not to notice with the Angels trumpeting and bright star above them. There is NO WAY I can face another miserable Michigan winter if I don’t have plenty of my all time favorite meal accompaniment. Cranberry Sauce. Last year I paid 13 dollars for 6 pounds, this year the same amount is 20 bucks. So not fair! But hey, they’re on sale today-16 bucks. Gotta have them so I grab 8 bags.
|My usual give away basket of canned goods…|
Now, where was I and why was I here ? Oh yeah, blackberries. None spotted with these naked, ok bespeckled eyes. Scout around and spot the produce guy, but my mind and eyes keep wandering back to those stinking red raspberries. “Sorry lady, we’re out of blackberries until the truck comes tomorrow.” Yes God, it’s a sign! I will be strong. I no longer feed the masses or I’d buy 100 boxes. Honest. I’m-really-trying-here. I-promise-I’ll-only-make-a-couple-batches-of-seedless-red-raspberry-jelly-for-something-different. Not everyone tolerates all those seeds well. The produce guy suddenly struts over, makes me put back the blanket, pillow and pacifier in their respective departments and gives me a 10 second ultimatum. I need to decide how many packages of raspberries I want and leave his department. Now. Heartbroken, like I’m letting all the rest of the little raspberries down, I buy just 2 itty-bitty cases-24 boxes. A joke really. Pitiful sigh. Such a waste when I should be taking a truckload home. Produce guy pushes MY cart to a checkout lane, glances back a couple seconds later to make sure I’ve not strayed into his little domain again, and gives me kind of a dirty look. Huh, he’s looking pretty smug. Just wait dude. My blackberries are coming in tomorrow. Terminator Denise gives him a fierce, frosty “I’ll be back” look that makes him cringe a bit, plus wipes that smug look right off his face. That’s better. Yup, I still got it. I happily head out the door with my piddly-little-bit-of-stuff-today. The truly tortured life of a home canner…
|Home canned beef, Redskins, green beans and my must have-cranberry sauce…|