Janet Elsbach9 Comments

plum opportunity

Janet Elsbach9 Comments
plum opportunity

Canning and preserving follow a rhythm for me that is as durable as the rocks on the hill. I fret most of the summer that I have done almost nothing. Then I remember in August that August is when I usually begin, and a few jars of dilly beans get made, and I still fret, though less anxiously, and then some tomatoes get canned, and I start to feel actually better, and then if I am lucky there are a lot of tomatillos and this gets me feeling spiffy and when the peaches start rolling in it is a regular canningpalooza to the degree that I am thoroughly pockmarked with tiny burns and my hands are stained in time for apples and pears and off we go.

This year I can hardly bring myself to the pot, or even to the garden. I am lucky to live next door to my parents’ house, where an orchard and vegetable garden overflow all summer and fall. It has taken me all season to recognize that grief and sadness, those shapeshifting dynamos, are in the way of all of this. Growing and preserving food came into my life because my mother did it, and though she had long since signed off on this type of activity before she died this past winter, I suppose that origin story is still recognized by my brain at a level just below the surface of consciousness. I have yet to orient myself around so many things that her absence is present in, even the obvious ones like referring to the house as my dad’s, in the singular. So I was not looking for her around the canning pot, where she had been so long removed.

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Seeing food go to waste, especially when so many are hungry, makes me very twitchy, though. It’s a mast year here in Western Massachusetts, where I live, meaning a superabundance of fruit is leaping off the trees. Not getting to it haunts me. Yesterday I could ignore the plums no longer—as it was, I had to dump fully half of my haul right into the compost since the mold had outpaced me. It’s hard to explain the rotten way this makes me feel.

Creative plans to deploy them into some adventuresome butter or jam or chutney, which we eat a bit of and is nice to give away, were shoved aside in favor of piling them into the steam juicer, which efficiently dispatches mountains of fruit and transforms it into something we reliably consume by the gallon.

This morning I was thinking of how all these things collide, the harsh self-talk about waste and laziness, the sadness of adjusting to a life without my mom right here in it, what we carry and what we leave behind, the ways to move forward that may feel too slow and too small but are still motion. I recognized with some satisfaction that the quantity of ruby-bright juice I had eked out of the salvageable plums was precisely the amount I could fit in the canning pot at one go, leaving one cupful to drink, and I slipped the last jar into the boiling water feeling like one feels when a metaphor manifests so neatly.

This feeling lasted 11 seconds (estimated), until without warning the glass lid of the canning pot exploded into one jabillion (also an estimate) tiny pieces. In rapid succession following this dramatic event, I cut my finger, burned my hand and dropped the vacuum onto one of the smaller and most unsuspecting of the toes on my right foot.

If you need me, I will be in bed with three dogs and a cup of plum juice. If you came in search of a recipe, please trot by Rural Intelligence, where I have been contributing a new edible every other Thursday. If you are now crazy curious about steam juicers, or just really cannot get enough of the home extension ouevre, please enjoy this with my compliments.