Canning is good for the soul.
That’s the message I received during a graveside visit with my parents. Mother, who kept pork protected by a layer of grease in a large Red Wing crock before refrigeration was available, was a master canner of meat, fruit and vegetables.
I’m not one — but experience is a great teacher. Two crates of peaches on sale were impossible to resist. In days past, peaches came in wooden crates with each peach protected by thin colored paper. Mother kept the fruit until it sufficiently ripened in the dark and cool basement. Her sons stole what they could until she warned there wouldn’t be enough to can.
Glass jars were rounded up and lids purchased. The recipe to make the sweet syrup included sugar and honey. After the peaches were shocked, dunked in ice-cube cooled water and pealed, they were ready for canning. The boiling water burned my hand, but as any canner knows, the pain is worth it. The result — a dozen sealed jars — glistened on the counter.
Mother often used tape on the jars to identify what year they were canned. When the fruit cellar was emptied for the last time, some filled jars had been sitting on the shelves for five years or more.
Tomatoes will follow and maybe chicken and beef. Mother’s harvest meals, when it was uncertain when we’d come for supper, often included canned meat in its own gravy, and mashed potatoes.
I’ve avoided canning meat out of concern for botulism that can result from poorly sealed jars. Health experts say botulism cases are few and the risk eliminated if the contents are properly heated for 10 minutes. However, 200 botulism cases were reported in the last decade.
This is the first year in 30 without a garden. The peppers, eggplants, radishes and onions are missed, but not the weeds and mosquitoes. Kathy atones for the loss with regular visits to farmers markets. She returns with meats and vegetables and says the purchases benefit the local economy.
Direct marketers fill a niche in farming that is rapidly becoming more diverse. Organic methods are earning broader acceptance from a public that’s grown more skeptical about the safety of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. Extension specialists in Iowa and Minnesota are spending more time researching alternative production practices.
Canning peaches was good therapy for a reason — it allowed me to forget about a scheduled doctor’s appointment. I’m mostly positive about what he’s going to say. The hip that has so many miles on it needs replacing. Kathy says the pain has caused me to become a different and not necessarily better person. An injection remains an option, but its impact weakens over time and cannot be repeated.
“You’ve got a decision to make,’’ Kathy said, “Can you stand the pain, or do you want a new hip?”
The pain, I joke, is a positive because it keeps me humble. Kathy didn’t appreciate the humor and attempted to sway by listing all the people who have hips replaced without complications. A woman I knew years ago had a replacement and never left the hospital because of a cursed infection. She was a wonderful person who sacrificed so much for the foster children she loved.
A high school buddy who hadn’t been heard from in ages called last week. He’d broken his ankle last winter, had rods put in and suffered an infection that is still a concern.
It’s tough getting older, but the alternative isn’t appealing.
A good part of the remainder of August will be spent canning. Mother did the same and for reasons that went beyond merely putting food on the table.
The greatest reward will come in dead of winter, when summer returns with each bite of a sweet peach.