Oregon State University is the state agricultural college, and I live in an old neighborhood full of bungalows, where professors raised their children and planted fruit trees—plums, pears, apples, cherries, and one glorious fig—in the back yards. The professors have moved up into the hills, seeking quiet and larger houses, but the old trees remain, still producing fruit. I have a map of these trees in my head and in late summer mornings harvest the produce and preserve it for winter. Other mornings, I bring back the excess from Sunbow Farm and spend an afternoon roasting and canning tomatoes or pickling cucumbers and red cabbage. I am an opportunistic canner; I take what is about to go to waste and save it, rather than working from a series of pre-planned recipes. There are three essential tools in an opportunistic canner’s basement that make such quick action possible.
First, I have a steam canner from Territorial Seeds. Rather than filling the huge canning pot with water and waiting forty minutes for it to boil, I can prepare my applesauce or grape juice and can it immediately, using about a quart of water and a fraction of the time. The timing is the same as a boiling water canner and it works on the same sorts of preserves—pickles, jams, juices, fruit in syrup, and tomatoes. This means that I can preserve a small batch of something, like three jars of pickled red cabbage, without feeling guilty about energy use.
Second, I have a large collection of jars. Some of them are old; I have quart jars with Bicentennial designs on them, and others read “Magic Mason” or “Mother’s Canning Jar.” I scour thrift shops for cheap jars in January. My partner’s mother ships jars to me from Tennessee and friends pass jars my way when they have too many. I buy the lids in bulk, string the reuseable rings on thick pieces of Christmas yarn, and I am ready to go when a bushel of cider apples appears in the back yard, gleaned from the tree down the street.
Finally, I have two books —The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Both are comprehensive, accurate, and detailed, discussing the general theories of preserving as well as giving specific recipes for a huge variety of vegetables and fruits. When I had a pile of very ripe cucumbers last year, I made senfgurken, which required tough-skinned fruits. Every year, I find new recipes in the books because I have new vegetables to work with.
I don’t can all of our winter’s produce; we eat more dried fruit than canned because of the sugar content and we prefer fresh kale to months old green beans. But, the last few weeks of August, just before school starts, are devoted to preserving whatever harvest comes my way. Like Greg Brown’s grandmother, I “put summer in jars” for the long winter nights.