Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Canning (inspired by a Kathryn Kirkpatrick poem)

A friend of mine has tried valiantly to teach me the secrets of canning. Together, in her cozy kitchen, we make stunning red jars of sweet strawberry jam and gorgeous garlicky dilled carrots. I bring the jars home and place them lovingly on display on the kitchen window sill, where the sunlight will shine through them, highlighting their colors. Two weeks since the most recent canning date, my family has already plowed through the first two out of five jars of jam and a jar of carrots. (The jar on the left in the photo is mustard that I made in my fermented foods class, waiting patiently to be blended).

My mom used to can pickles, tomatoes, and chutneys, every summer. I don't know if she liked doing it. She just did it, to make use of all the produce that grew in her huge garden. Me, I don't garden very well. I forget to water. Okay, let's be honest--I generally forget to plant, too. So, I've made freezer jam and refrigerator pickles from produce I bought at the farmer's market, but it's not a part of my seasonal routine the way it was when I was a kid and my mom was in charge of the kitchen and garden.

That's why the beginning of Kathryn Kirkpatrick's poem "Canning Globalization," from her collection titled Our Held Animal Breath, jumped out at me.

Not raised during the Depression I get it wrong.
Canning's not a thing you do
for fun or novelty.

It's what might go to waste out in the yard.
Figs and pears and muscadines.
Blueberries from a cousin's laden bushes. 
It's readiness at the brimming,
a steadfast looking out
for what's been given.
This is what I'm missing, this sense of urgency to preserve a gift that's already been given. Yes, the home-canned strawberry jam is ten times better than anything I can buy at the store, but it requires buying a flat of berries. I wait to buy the flat of berries until I know I'll have time to preserve them. I don't make the time, like I would if the berries were in my own yard staring at me.
Mother, teach me the boiling,
the cooling and sealing,
how to live on these two acres,
squash vines on the upper hill,
raspberries in the sloping meadow.
Time has a funny way of not appearing. It just never seems to jump in out of nowhere, begging for something to be done with it.

In this era, time has become the most precious resource of all. The one thing that we never have in abundance. We hoard it, and waste it, and fly through it to the other side of a week, or a month, or a year, where we look back and wonder where it went.
Mother, teach me to let the jars stand and cool.
Let me peaceably fill my shelves
and bring on no one's calamity.
What if we set aside a day to work together as a family to preserve the bounty of each season? I don't need to be taught how to do this--my parents showed me by example. I just need to decide it's important enough to prioritize, just for one day, over all the other things clamoring for my attention.

The full poem, Canning Globalization, is about so much more than canning. It can be found in Kirkpatrick's collection titled Our Held Animal Breath. I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours so that I could write about it today.


  1. I would like to be the sort of person who canned and preserved.
    But I guess not enough to actually do it.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head, Caite. At least, not enough to do it alone, in my case.

  2. Your so right about time being so precious these days…but I like to make time for myself to do things like canning and gardening because I enjoy it all so much :) It really does give me a sense of fullfilment plus it's just fun and rewarding :)

  3. I used to can and preserve. Now I use my freezer. I think I had one too many hot summer day hovering over a hot stove without air-conditioning (still don't have A/C) to pick up canning again.

    Still the sharing, working together, and capturing summer in a jar sounds so appealing.

  4. No history of canning in my family except for one aunt who made jam now and then. It's definitely not something I would attempt alone and I've always admired people who garden well and love canning every summer.

  5. I love this meditation on canning, and I remember doing it with my parents (that and applesauce in late fall), but I've never tried it on my own as an adult. I live in apartment and don't even have windowsill herbs... so I think canning may be something that's lost for my generation (X, if you were wondering...).

    1. I love to make homemade applesauce in the fall, but I soon get weary of peeling the apples, and my family devours it every time I make it. I'm lucky if there's any left over for another meal, much less enough to bother canning!

  6. My husband and I are in the process of learning about canning. Have not done it yet, but we are gathering the necessary equipment and trying to learn. A nice thing to do together.

  7. I get over this by doing very small batches of jam (that you keep in the fridge). Works for me. Cheers

    1. Small batches are better than no batches! But I'm so envious of my friends who have a larder and freezer full of summer fruits during those dreary winter days.

  8. I've not been that attracted to canning, but I'd really like to freeze produce. Someday. When we get a freezer. And, yeah, it's mostly a matter of making it a priority so that we take time to do it.

    Joy's Book Blog

  9. The way you talk about this poem makes me like it better!

    1. Well thank you, Jeanne, what a nice compliment!

  10. My husband and I canned tomatoes one year from our garden, but that was the extent of it.

  11. Ah yes, prioritize ... a simple word yet a difficult thing to do!

    Thank for sharing your thoughts on this book of poetry for the tour.