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An adventure in canning

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I’m not entirely sure why lately I’ve become so obsessed with being able to take care of myself.  The main way that I see this concern is a desire to stock up on food.  I’m sure that one contributor to this development is Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which describes her family’s year of living locally.  As she describes that year, the chapter on August is called “Living in a Red State”–talking about the endless harvesting, and, more important for the family, preserving, of their harvest of tomatoes.

Lately, I’ve been subscribing to a CSA–community supported agriculture.  The farm delivers a box of seasonal organic vegetables to me–actually, to me at work–once every two weeks.  [They come every week, but, as a single person, I can’t get through it all in one week.]  In a recent newsletter, the farm mentioned that it was possible to special order a 20 lb. box of Roma tomatoes.  So, with a recipe in hand, I ordered the box.

When it arrived, I found that 20 lbs. is a lot more than I thought.  So I planned my strategy.  I started peeling, seeding and pureeing the tomatoes, and put the resulting puree in a container in the fridge.  By the time I was done, it came to 6 quarts of puree.  I have to say that the hint for peeling tomatoes from the Joy of Cooking really worked.  I put a batch of tomatoes in a single layer in a roasting pan, then covered them with boiling water.  By the time the water was cool, the tomatoes were easy to peel.

Then there was turning tomato puree into spaghetti sauce.  The recipe was very insistent on the importance of following the recipe exactly for reasons of food safety.  I’d just as soon not experience botulism, thank you very much.  And the thing that protects from it is either acid or high heat–higher than boiling water.

I was interested to taste the result–the recipe includes powdered dried lemon peel, which turns out to be an ingredient that I may need to add to my repertoire.  The recipe also include cinnamon and nutmeg, which add a bit of a Mediterranean accent–entirely welcome to my mind.

After a bit of exploration with the equipment that I had on hand, I realized that it was going to be necessary to acquire a canning kettle.  Not too much later, I had seven pints of sauce.  I suppose that I could have put it up in quarts, but as a usually single person, pints seemed more useful, and the canner holds only seven jars at a time.

As the jars cooled off, I was delighted to find that the seals held.  So now they’re acting as silent witnesses in my cupboard.  And I’ve moved on to pondering a pressure canner, so that I can put up pears.   I have to admit that I have a dreadful weakness for canned pears, but they have to be canned in a pressure cooker for food safety.

I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to the question:  If I had to live for a year on just the tomatoes that I canned myself, how much do I need?  I’m pretty sure that the answer is between a pint per week, and a pint every two weeks.  In either case, it really represents an investment of my time.

Once again, as a “city kid”,  I’m confronted with the fact that farm life is hard work–and apparently unending.  I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been for people, probably women, to just get the harvest in and preserved for the winter, to say nothing of the rest of the year to come.

 To circle back to Barbara Kingsolver’s book.  The answer to “What do you eat in January?” is “Everything”, but the time to think about it is August. 

afghans for Afghans–personal knitting for global connection

Monday, June 16th, 2008

A week or so ago, I got an email newsletter from a local yarn shop that included an invitation to knit a rectangular shawl for women going into a maternity hospital in Kabul.  This is only one of the projects of afghans for Afghans.  I really like the idea of putting my knitting to work to create a connection among people far across the world.

And I spend my working life dealing with the new infants of California collectively, as statistics–and I’m not minimizing the significance of what I do–but it’s not personal, not individual, in the way that this will be.  I know that, whatever I produce will be given to one particular woman; and I’m grateful for the chance to produce something that I hope she will like.

Unfortunately for me, they’ve asked that the shawls be ready to ship in July, which means that I’ve got to get my jet skis on, and make tracks.  I found some beautiful, soft, wool yarn in the local yarn shop–balls of variegated blue, or green, or purple.  I’m knitting the shawl longways, so I can change colors and get lengthwise stripes.

The project is supported by the American Friends Service Committee of San Francisco–who provides, among other things, a place to store the items as they accumulate. 

This whole project just leaves me smiling with hope for humanity.  


Friday, June 13th, 2008
I've always been fond of the number 13.  When I was young, somewhere around 8 or 10, we moved into an apartment building.  There were fifteen floors, numbered 1 to 12, then 14, 15 and 16.  Similarly, the apartments on ... [Continue reading this entry]

Other Countries, Other Customs–Obama and TUCC

Thursday, June 5th, 2008
When I was studying German in high school, I learned a proverb that has passed the test of experience: "Andere Laender, Andere Sitten"--Other Countries, Other Customs.  My version wouldn't be so much "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" ... [Continue reading this entry]

Come Out! Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008
I was talking with a friend about the California Marriage ruling, and the prospect of an ugly initiative campaign in the Fall.  And I said that the most important thing that gay people can do is to come out--to friends, ... [Continue reading this entry]

One Activity, Two Cultures–Gay and Non-Gay Square Dancing

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008
Jeremy and I are getting ready for our annual expedition to the gay square dance convention.  For those of you who haven't done any square dancing since seventh grade, this is meant for a refresher--and a discussion of some differences ... [Continue reading this entry]

Knitting as a Tool for Reflection

Sunday, April 27th, 2008
I learned how to knit from my mom, when I was a kid.  I got a fair number of comments along the lines of "Boys don't do that", but that's another story.  I ended up puttng my needles down for ... [Continue reading this entry]

‘Radishes Smile, and All Beings Rejoice’

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
The title is a quotation from one section of Edward Espe Brown's book Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings.  I'll be talking about radishes in a bit, but first some words about the author and about the book in general.  Edward ... [Continue reading this entry]

“Practice makes permanent”

Thursday, April 17th, 2008
We've all heard the saying "Practice makes perfect".  Some years ago, the director of the chorus that I sing with rephrased that saying in a way that stopped me in my tracks.  She said "Practice makes permanent".  Her point was ... [Continue reading this entry]

Birding–a step toward immanence

Sunday, April 13th, 2008
     I have been an amateur birdwatcher since my days in Borneo in the Peace Corps.  Characteristically, a morning of bird-watching consists of getting up early, then going out and standing someplace and letting the birds come by.  There may ... [Continue reading this entry]