While I do not enjoy cooking, as a rule, I do enjoy canning. Cooking always seems like such a thankless job. You cook it up and then it disappears. But, canning has always appealed to me, probably because it is basically pretty scientific. There are only so many ways to do it and you must be precise (or risk clostridium botulinum.)
After all is said and done, I have a basement pantry filled with jars of gleaming beans, tomatoes, pickles, carrots, peas, peppers and okra. I freeze a few things. A neighbor gave me several bushel baskets filled with corn on the cob and I ended up freezing them into nicely sized bags just perfect for a dinner in January.
I like the whole procedure of the hot pack method of canning. I love sterilizing the mason jars, boiling the vegetables, skinning them and then packing them lightly into those jars. I love adding touches of herbs to the top of the jars so that when they are opened, there is a whiff of summer drifting up to my red winter nose.
The whole process just....pleases me so much. I feel capable and pioneery. I look at my hands doing the canning and know that hands came before me for centuries doing the same thing. It makes me feel connected to my ancestors, to prairie pioneer women who wasted not and then wanted not in the winter.
It helps that I grew up with a mother who canned vegetables. My sisters and I were raised to help can and it was expected of us. By the time I was Liv's age, I knew exactly how long to boil everything and how to do a proper seal on a jar. Liv knows too now, because she has been helping me do this since she was a toddler. The kitchen gets hot, but it is deliciously fragrant and homey.
I feel the same way when I bake apple pie. I don't really mind baking pies if the fruit is from an orchard nearby. Again, there is some visceral joy of feeling as if I am preserving something from my summer garden or, in this case, a neighbor's orchard. Hal and Nora, my neighbors and Liv's before-school caregivers, recently went to a nearby orchard and picked several bushels of apples and sent Liv home with a big paper bag of them. The next day, I baked five apple pies and froze four of them. Come November, I will bring one up from the basement freezer and thaw and warm it and we will tuck into it with french vanilla ice cream on a day when we have been busy raking leaves all day. A crock pot of chili will have been cooked on the kitchen counter and that smell combined with the apple pie scent will leave us all feeling safe and content.
There are few things more enjoyable than this.
Bing finds this all very strange. She can't understand how I can detest cooking but love canning and have the capacity to make five pies in one day and not mind. I try to tell her that it is all about the idea of making something out of vegetables that I have grown myself from started seedlings in my basement in March and cutting up apples that have been grown on trees less than ten miles away from us.
It is the idea of it all. The notion that I am caring ably for my family in a way that is generational. My apple pie recipe is my mother's recipe handed down from her mother and her mother and her mother. There is something about this that appeals to me, makes me feel...useful and strong.
So, I have spent the weekend canning and freezing. And now I have four full shelves of canned vegetables in my basement pantry and a freezer full of corn and apple pie. I know that I will not have to buy even one can of vegetables this winter at the grocery store. I also have stacks and stacks of herbs drying out on my racks in the basement. When I go down to do laundry now, there is a thick scent of basil and thyme, rosemary and mint. Cilantro and even some lavender to slide into small cotton bags for Liv's teachers to tuck into their underwear drawers for Christmas gifts. The mint will be sliced into sprigs and put into small jars and also given out as Christmas gifts. I like knowing that people will be drinking their tea with sprigs of mint in them. Mint from my garden.
This pleases me so much that I am almost beaming with pride.
I like knowing that bits of my basil will be poured out into hands and then siphoned into pots of tomato sauce for spaghetti. Basil from my little backyard herb garden.
I left just enough vegetables and herbs in my garden so that we can pick and eat them until the first freeze (usually early October.) And one day in October, after all has been picked but the pumpkins, I will put my garden to bed for the winter, using my hoe to loosen up the soil and pull up all the stray vines. I will wish my garden beds a long, healthy sleep and then sit for awhile on the back steps, looking fondly on the dozy soil and thanking it for it's bounty once again this summer. The days will be shorter then and I will be in a warm red sweater and long jeans and good, heavy socks instead of the shorts, sleeveless tee shirts and sandals that I live in now. The trees will not be green anymore, but all golden and red and misty orange.
I can't sew. I am a poor cook. I cannot do anything interesting with glue, glitter and doilies for some craft project. But, I can freeze and can and dry herbs with a great degree of talent. I am not Betty Crocker or Coco Chanel, Grandma Moses or Georgia O'Keeffe.
But, I am Maria, the woman who cans, freezes and dries herbs.
Hear me roar.