October 7, 2010 in Washington Voices

Preserving today means treats later

Stefanie Pettit

I can.

By that I don’t mean I am able, capable or have permission to be or do something. I mean I put up preserves. My extended family marvels at this. We come from urban stock, after all, and this is definitely not our tradition. Even among my friends, a good number of whom have rural backgrounds, canning is a rare phenomenon. I don’t get this, really I don’t.

I came to canning somewhat later in life. My father-in-law, an old Iowa farm boy, and my mother-in-law, a Wisconsin farm girl, retired to Spokane the same year I was pregnant with my youngest son. They bought a home on three-quarters of an acre in Spokane Valley, and Gramps did what every self-respecting, Great Depression-surviving country boy who could wield a hoe did – he put in a garden.

He was skeptical. How could a person grow anything in that rocky soil, he wondered. Nothing could be as fertile as good old Iowa dirt. But he soon learned that Spokane Valley dirt was just fine, thank you. Peas, corn, green beans, limas, asparagus, lettuce, kohlrabi and more all poured forth in due course.

My mother-in-law showed me how to blanch vegetables and put them in freezer bags. But, aha, Gramps also had a peach tree. And so the canning of fruit also began. I got a water-bath canner and some quart jars, rims and lids. Gramps also had grapes. I added pint and half-pint jars to the inventory, and the making of jam also began. Gramps provided the produce, Grandma provided the canning know how and I provided the hardware and canning labor. The kids helped pick – is there anything sweeter than eating raw peas right out of the pod out in the garden? – but mostly just ran around and had fun.

We ate well.

My in-laws have been gone for many years now. The house in Spokane Valley has long since been sold. I no longer freeze vegetables. But I still can fruit, especially fruit I encounter serendipitously. My sister-in-law lives in Wenatchee, and I often get fruit there. Her neighbor was selling cherries at the end of the season, and I picked up a bunch of Rainiers for $1 a pound. Score! Last year I bought apples – Jonagolds, horse apples and a variety I never heard of before and can’t remember the name of now – at a closeout from a Spokane grower for embarrassingly low prices. And sometimes people give me fruit for free. Life, along with the fruit, is sweet.

What? It takes too much time, you say. It makes too big of a mess. Well, OK, it is a little messy. But for those of you interested in health and nutrition, here’s your chance to control the amount of sugar you ingest (with no sugar being an option, too) and, for you multitaskers out there, you can have your TV shows on or be checking the kids’ homework while you’re at work in the kitchen. I still hold the theory that you always make time to do the things you really want to do.

OK, I don’t mean for this to be a diatribe. If you’re not interested in canning, fine. But there is so much good fruit available from local growers. And there is so much fruit going unpicked from neighbors’ trees. I just don’t see how you wouldn’t want to turn it into yummy stuff to eat when the snows fall in January. And, I’m sorry, there’s nothing better than homemade.

My aforementioned youngest son has pretty much only had homemade jam his whole life. He recently had some jam at a restaurant and practically spit it out. It’s not that mine is the best jam in the world – I just follow the recipe on the Certo box – but homemade jam has a higher fruit content than that store-bought stuff, a fact which my son didn’t learn until he was into his third decade. And I have a friend who would cheerfully donate a kidney for a jar of my applesauce (I give her quite a few jars; she still has all her kidneys) – again, not because mine is made from some secret recipe but because it’s thick and apple-dense and different in taste from year to year, as I’m always scrounging different apple varieties. Have you ever had hot homemade applesauce over pancakes? No? Well, then, your taste buds have been deprived.

(Note to recipients of homemade preserves: If convenient, we givers of canned goods appreciate the return of the jars, empty of course.)

One final thing – I can’t turn down offers of fruit, even in years when I vow to lay off. Just the other day I was visiting a friend in Cheney. Her husband had just finished picking their Italian plums, having given away several boxes. One box remained on the front porch. Might I like to have it, Charlie asked? Why, yes I would.

And so I can.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/columnists/.

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