Every year, the conversation is the same. My husband insists that I am wasting my time canning. I’m talking about good, old-fashioned canning. You know, the kind with the water bath canner, the glass mason jars, the old screw-top lids. Canning. The art of preserving food. I argue that canning is a lost art, a delicious way to preserve the fruits of the season.
I usually only do it once a year. Sometimes twice. It’s a big production. It takes up a good part of the day (okay, it takes up the whole day if you consider the number of times I stop to tend to a child or attend to another need around the house or serve a meal) and it takes over the kitchen completely.
It’s actually all a little daunting. I wake up on the morning I’ve planned to can and I ask myself again if I’m sure I’m up for it. Usually, I dread it a little because I know once I start, there is no stopping until each of those jars have popped and I know all of my food is sealed and preserved.
Now for those of you that don’t can, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing difficult about canning. It’s just time-consuming. Especially if you’re making something (like jam) rather than just canning the food itself because usually there’s some prep work involved.
This year I bought a ton of cranberries at Thanksgiving and after over-indulging on cranberry sauce for weeks, I thought to myself, why do we only eat cranberry sauce once a year? It’s so tasty and adds flavor and variety as a topping to plain, boring meals. Then I remembered that fresh cranberries only pop up once a year at the grocery store. For a moment I was sad as I licked the last bit of relish off my spoon. But then I realized with a start that I could have cranberry sauce year-round (my own cranberry sauce, not the store-bought canned variety… my cranberry sauce with all the little adjustments I like to make) if I would just can some.
So the thing about canning is this. It is a big production. The jars, the mess, the process. So my theory is, I might as well can a lot since the process is a big deal whether I can a little or a lot. So I dropped everything and ran up to the grocery store thinking I’d grab some more cranberries but then when I got there, the berries were on sale. Oh luscious, sweet blackberries and beautiful ripe raspberries. So in addition to cranberry sauce, I was now dreaming of jams and syrup. I loaded up my cart and headed home. I appointed the next day as canning day. I even went to bed early in anticipation of the big event (yep, ‘cause in my world of little kids and dirty footprints, a day of canning is considered a big event).
I woke up early the next morning and leisurely stretched out. Then I remembered. It was canning day. I hopped out of bed, threw some cereal in a bowl for the kids (a rare occurrence around here) and began The Process.
Wash fruit. Wash jars. Prepare recipe. Stop the children from fighting with each other. Wash fruit. Wash lids. Stir the boiling pot. Serve a snack. Prepare lids and jars. Can the first recipe. Wash pots. Answer the curious kid’s dozen questions. Grab the phone. Prepare the next recipe (remember, I only have four burners, two of which are actually big enough to use for the canning pots, so I can only make and can so many things at a time). Answer the doorbell. Make lunch. Prepare more lids and jars. Can another recipe. And so on. All. day. long.
By dinnertime, my children had been left to play on their own for the better part of the day, dinner was nowhere to be seen, and I was exhausted. I still had a recipe left to can. I’d have to stop long enough to bathe the kids, scrounge up some dinner to feed my little family and then put the kids to bed, all while knowing that my work wasn’t quite complete.
My husband wandered out into the kitchen, saw the mess, made a face, and asked me for the third time that day, “And tell me again, why do you can? You do realize you can buy all this same stuff at the store, right? Save yourself all the time and effort.” Usually, I respond with a quick, “yeah, but homemade tastes better.” This time I was silent.
In my exhausted state of being, I was wondering why do I can?
Now, weeks after the final top has been sealed, I’ve had time to think about it, I know why I can. Because there is a final product. Something to show for my hard work. Dozens and dozens of gorgeous jars with delicious preserved food.
Most things I do on a daily basis don’t have a final product. If I cook, it’s quickly consumed. If I make the beds, no one notices and within 12 hours, the beds are unmade once again. I do pile after pile of laundry and at the end of the day, there are more clothes in the hamper. Even my children are works in progress. Like the great cathedrals, I do not see a finished product.
But canning? Well, canning gives me pretty jars to hold. Canning gives me a homemade gift to give to dear friends and family. The jars sit on the countertop (until we’re tired of staring at them) for all to see the great accomplishment of the day. In a world of unfinished products, canning just feels good.