A friend just called me a little Susie Homemaker. I wondered if she meant it as a complement or if was said with a bit of derision. Either way, her comment reminded me of a long-forgotten belief, how, in my childhood, I expected myself to grow up. The last thing I desired for my future was anything domestic. I remember listening to the song Dreams of the Everyday Housewife, a 60’s song about a woman who “gave up the good life.” I thought I would NEVER do that. Who would want to give up “the good life?”
And yet, here I am at middle age, with a latent love for canning, gardening, all the things I despised when I was young. I discovered that our ideas about The Good Life change as we have experiences and consequently the desire to move along to others. Autumn is the time when I have a profound desire most to be a harvesting, and canning, housewife.
Autumn means the vibrant colors of the leaves as they careen devil-may-care onto your lawn for cleanup. I drink in the colors and find myself driving deep into the countryside to see the farms at work reaping their harvest.
I go into my garden and revel in picking the last of my own vegetables, at least the ones the deer and rabbits haven’t munched yet. Over the years I have been drawn more and more to an inexplicable need to get involved in making my own food. With that came the desire to try canning.
I was actually afraid to try it for years, thinking the farm women had perfected the techniques over many seasons and I couldn’t catch up. The Ball canning books are so precise that they were actually intimidating to me.
I asked my friend Cheryl to can with me, thinking she can possibly catch a mistake I may make. And she was armed with knowledge; her mother used to can but she hadn’t done it by herself for awhile. So we were sort of a pair, experimenting, one armed with enough knowledge to pull us both through the process.
We cleaned, boiled, lifted, wiped, did all the things according to the book. The book was exacting. Wipe just so. Boil for exactly so many minutes. Headspace. Air bubbles. Yet in the process, I learned that a little wiggle room is absolutely possible.
As usual, I began second-guessing myself. Was that enough spice? Are the fruits and veggies and lids clean enough to weather up to a year on the shelf? Were the jar threads wiped clean enough to make a proper seal? What if there are air bubbles trapped I can’t see? From the descriptions in the books the whole process sounded and looked like an exacting and daunting task, and that I might fail if I wavered even slightly from the prescribed process.
Does that sound weird to you? Canning Anxiety? ? Those of you who learned from your moms probably think it’s second nature, and it is, for some. But for someone like me, who had never done it before middle age, it was uncharted territory where I might veer terribly off course.
My message to you, and one to remind myself: don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if you fail, it is better to have tried. As you can see, my tomatoes were not packed beautifully. Air was in the top, even though the lid sealed properly. There was too much liquid, not a full complement of tomatoes from top to bottom like the ones pictured in those lovely Ball books. But a wise, seasoned canner told me to just turn those jars upside down on the shelf and they’ll keep just fine.
So the jars weren’t pretty. But I opened one to make tomato basil soup and it was just as delicious and satisfying for me as if I had won a blue ribbon at the county fair.