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31 August 2009

a party to preserve the season

canning apron

A joyful noise, wonderful women and men both, the smells of plum chutney and lemon juice and blueberry jam in the air, corn being shucked on the porch, people canning tomatillos in turkey roasters with a propane tank, burnt sugar cake and head cheese and blackberry pie, people laughing and chatting and making new friends. It was a fine frenzy, to be sure. The first friends arrived about 10:15 in the morning and our last friends left at 7:30 as the evening was descending. We were all filled with happy exhaustion.

We had a canning party this Saturday.

soft-focus tomatoes

Remember when I told you about the Canvolution going on? And so many of you shared your own stories of preserving food? The excitement has been building, all across the country. Maybe some of you gathered in a friend's kitchen, to put up peaches or pickle green beans or learn how to make jam. I hope so, because this was one of the most joyful afternoons I have ever spent.

And just think what it will be like to taste these tomatoes in January.

peeling tomatillos

We have potlucks, often. We welcome our friends into our living room and backyard, laugh all day, and eat well.

But nothing compares to making food together. Some of us gathered around the table, peeling the skins from home-grown tomatillos. The conversation followed the same easy pace as those skins slipping off.

women in the kitchen

Within half an hour of the party starting, all four burners on the stove — as well as the two portable burners Jenise and Mike brought with them — were glowing bright blue with flame. Crushed blueberries bubbled with sugar. Squeezed and spent lemon rinds sat in the sink. The air began to smell of summer and wonder and something acrid too.

All the women talked and shared food secrets, demonstrating techniques with their hands in fast conversations, back and forth. (The men did too.)

Sheryl crushing plums

Mostly, we used our hands. To talk, to point toward the work going on, to chop fruits and red onions and vanilla bean pods. Sheryl is crushing plums with her fingers here, softening, cajoling, making them ready for chutney.

In stations around the kitchen and the living room table and in the front garden, people made food ready with their hands.

Marisa squeezing lemon

Marisa, who writes Food in Jars, flew all the way from Philadelphia for this party. We were so honored. And so happy to meet her, all of us. She slid into the kitchen and enlightened many people on techniques and what to do with a giant Le Creuset pan full of simmering-hot blueberries and sugar. Look closely — do you see the lemon juice about to drop?

figs ready to be made into jam

Besides blueberries and plums, tomatoes and tomatatillos, green beans and red onions, my dear friend Viv brought us figs. Fresh figs, plucked from trees on the island not five miles from where we gathered. We all oohed and aahed at them in the box when she walked in.

But looking at them flecked with lemon zest in this metal bowl? That brought out the food blogger papparazi — a circle of us honed in on the pink flesh with our cameras, trying to capture the beauty before us.

outdoor canning station

The house thronged with so many people that we didn't have room for all the work we had to do. Laura brought this propane tank and giant pot, fired it up, and set to work on the tin table top outside. Within a few moments, this became the main gathering place, as people stood in the sunlight together, talking and topping green beans.

Kim cutting plums for jam

Kim, amazing woman, cut up plums, as she told stories and talked about her favorite books from childhood. We grew spirited, quickly, talking about the Boxcar Children and the Borrowers and Harriet the Spy.

This was my kind of party.

work in progress

In that light, even the detritus of the vegetables looked beautiful.

Maybe it always does.

canning tomatillos

And then Laura canned her tomatillos, on the porch, with the leaves that needed sweeping, all her jars awaiting that swirling green.

canning on the counter

In the kitchen, people rinsed and cleaned, setting everything aside for the next batch of canning.

(We had a lot of dishes at the end of the day, but they were mostly done for us. We would have happily scrubbed and loaded the dishwasher and emptied it, only to begin again, for days, if we had been required to. But people were lovely and left us an organized kitchen, on top of it all.)

tea making zucchini noodles

Of course, no party would be complete without food to eat while gathered. It's one thing to put up food for the winter, to make blueberry jam that will taste of August when we open it in February.

It all tasted better with zucchini noodles with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, however.

some of the food spread

We had quite the spread on our table, and in various places of the kitchen (any spot that didn't have a burner, really). All of it fresh and vibrant, from farmers' markets or small businesses.

And all of it gluten-free.

(If you have been recently diagnosed, and you're feeling sorry for yourself, just look at this photo sometimes. All this can be yours, plus more.)

blackberry pie

Plus, there was pie. Blackberry pie from the berries Little Bean and I gathered with our friend Anna and her son, Jamie. Little Bean sit on the path and demanded more and more blackberries. After eating only a couple of them, she looked up at me and said, "Yum!" That stopped my hand from reaching for the next berry for awhile.

That night, I made a pie, with my first lattice crust. I was surprised when any of it was left for the party.

It didn't last long.

gluten-free burnt sugar cake

And gluten-free burnt sugar cake, made by a talented ten-year-old girl.

Jon with the shucked corn

Our friend Jon brought sweet corn, a little later in the day. A few of us sat on the porch, talking about salmon and different methods of composting and corn shucking contests at the state fair. Those husks were tough, but we made quick work of them.

I made Jon sit there for a minute until I could take this picture.

Danny chopping corn for the relish

And even though we had been canning all day, and the kitchen was littered with dishes to put away (and sliced apples still to be made into applesauce), Danny started cutting the kernels of corn from the cob.

He and Jon stood in the kitchen, talking about flavors and what to make with roasted peppers and coriander seeds from our garden. Neither one of them is much for drawing attention to themselves, however. They just set to work.

some of the leftover flats

By the end of the day, empty flats stained with raspberries and green half-pint boxes sat on our front porch, so we could take them to the recycling center today. All that fresh fruit, ripe, made into something memorable the day it was purchased, instead of sitting in the refrigerator, wilting.

This sight makes me happy.

some of the cans we had left at the end of the party

As does this one — just some of the jars of preserves people left for us at the end of the day. Fig jam. Plum chutney. Blueberry jam. Blueberry chutney. Corn relish. (There were also smashed tomatillos, homemade salsa, and bread and butter pickles.)

We will remember this joyful day deep into the long winter, and beyond.

baskets at the end of the day

And in the end, it was all about this. Jars, lids. Some canning salt. Fresh fruit. A pie or two.

Homey, comfortable. An activity as old as our great grandmothers and before them. We were a group of people — many of us new to each other — drawn into those rooms by our love of food and the desire to preserve it. We all went home with jars of jam. We left each other with new friendships, a raft of information about pectins and canning techniques, and the memory of a sunlit-dappled day of laughter and magic connections.

If you haven't attended a canning party yet, may I recommend you throw one? (See Canning Across America for advice and content.) You won't regret it.

You will be fed.


At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just putting my last jars of beets into my canner. It will be a late night/or early morning but it will worth it. I now have 8 pints of pickled beets and 19 pints of regular organic beets. YUMMY. I am lucky enough my local CSA (Grant Farms) is offering preserving shares, so I got 1/2 of one. I have tomatoes, colorado peaches, and yukon gold potatoes coming my way. Can't wait. I'm hooked on canning now.
Kathy B

At 11:33 PM, Blogger seattlehorn said...

How wonderful! You just gave many of us a terrific gift, allowing us to vicariously enjoy an event we could not attend. Your generosity of spirit is so evident -- and without a doubt enhances the flavor of everything you preserved that day. Thank you for sharing.

At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Noshzilla Kat said...

Awesome post and photos...I feel like I was there!

We're already planning our canning party for later this month. I just moved to a new city and thought it would be a great way to get to know some of the new folks i've met. Not to mention use those pears in the backyard.

We've picked chutney's as our inspiration...can't wait to see what we come up with!

At 1:43 AM, Blogger Jantien said...

Aaah, this looks like so much fun. And on spot on the trend: I made my first batch of chutney about a month ago, and I couldn't believe how easy it was!

At 3:20 AM, Blogger sweetpea said...

My canning, or putting food by as I like to call is starts today and goes on through the month. When I am done, I will have 100 cans of tomatoes, roasted and plain, 20 cans of fire roasted red pepper, 10 cans of corn relish, 70 ears of shucked, blanched and cut off the cob kernels of corn, 20 cups of pesto, and cans of cooked dried beans I can't even count. My pantry will be busting and I can't wait to start. My only worry, and it is big, tomatoes. I don't know about you but here in the midwest the tomato season is lagging and almost non existent. I can't stand the idea of canning tomatoes that won't be local but it has been so darn cool and cloudy all summer that the tomatoes just are not coming! Your party sure looks like fun!

At 3:44 AM, Blogger Adrienne said...

Oh, your photos and words are doubly inspiring to me with this post, because I attended a canning party here in Boston on Sunday - it was a different feel, more newbies with a few experienced preservers in a borrowed restaurant. We all learned so much and I cannot believe how much fun I had. I bought a canning pot and some jars yesterday and I can't wait to get started in my own kitchen!

At 5:00 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Amazing. I am having my own personal "canning party" at home today. Sadly, I will be canning alone, as all of my canning compatriots have to work today! I have a flat of blueberries, raspberries, and figs coming today and Mes Confitures at hand! I am going to plan better for next year and make sure to have many canners working with me!!! I tried the recipe link but it didn't work, because that zucchini noodle in pesto looks FABULOUS, and my gluten/egg 'allergic' daughter would love it! What tool did you use to noodlify the zucchini? Thanks once again for such an inspiring blog.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Divina Pe said...

I enjoyed the parting by just looking through the photos. What a great way to spend time with each other and make good use of the summer's produce for the next season. Thank you.

At 5:28 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

awesome idea! i look at my garden & think of it as a chore, although i love the end results. by the way, i loved your photo of the unused vegetable parts. i often feel tempted to take a photo of the contents of my compost bucket. tis a beautiful sight!

At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Juliana said...

Gorgeous. This actually brought tears of joy to my eyes in anticipation of my move this month to a house where I can have a large garden. I cannot wait to share bounty with my friends and to then preserve that bounty into the long nights of Winter.

Thank you for sharing. And oh, my, those figs!

At 7:15 AM, Anonymous Christie @ Quit Your Diet said...

Oh, canning is one of those things I have always wanted to learn to do. Your canning party looks so fun!

At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post resonated with me like few others have. We've just moved to a small island in the same region as yours, and the produce and the community spirit are identical. From lifelong city girl 2 months ago, to being neighboured by rich gardens and canning parties, life could not be more different or more enriching. Thank you for capturing this in pictures and words!

At 8:54 AM, Blogger chrystalene said...

It must be in the air. My sister and I canned 300 tomatoes a few weeks ago, and now every time I look at produce my brain automatically converts it into mason jars.

My neighbours have a languishing apple tree in their yard, so I took about 150 apples home over the weekend. Now I have a dozen jars of applesauce and apple butter. Tonight it will be blackberry jam and ginger preserves. After that, hopefully hibernation.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger The Happy Domestic said...

Heavens! I wish you were my neighbour. I so would have crashed your canning party. If my life weren't so darned busy this year I might actually have had some veggies of my own to put up! But thanks for sharing all the delights of your own.

At 9:07 AM, Anonymous La Niña said...

Wish I could have been there, but it looks like you were standing room only!

I've already gone through 30 lbs of sugar making over 30 pints of blackberry jam and 4 gallons of wild Damson plum liqueur... and this weekend I'm picking my entire Gravenstein apple tree. Apple chips, applesauce, apple-blackberry fruit leather... the pear tree is next.

One of my island neighbors just got back from buying 900 lbs of Albacore tuna from a fisherman she knows in Westport, WA. She's in full production smoking and canning the best tuna I've ever tasted. We're trading: my jam for her tuna.

Gotta love the beauty of bounty and sharing.

At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for inviting us along, and for taking that amazing picture of the burnt sugar cake. Fiona was truly proud of that. And now I can link to your photo, cause I managed to not get a photo. I think it got eaten way to fast for me to capture, or at least it will be my excuse. Really, I was enjoying the conversation in the kitchen way too much to be torn away from the action.
Your pictures and words again capture the joys of that day.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous The Purple Foodie said...

This looks like such a fun, fun party! I wish we had the drastic change of seasons like you guys to fully enjoy bottling up summer and welcoming fall.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger AmyArtisan said...

What a lovely journal of your lovely day! I canned on my own this weekend - this is the first year I canned. I now have 33 jars to work into the pantry shelves for the coming months - sugar plums, pickled veggies & 4 types of jam. As friends have heard about my canning adventures or read my blog they have asked to join in - so next summer I will definitely be hosting a canning party with friends. As I told my mom of my adventures she said that both Grandmas would be proud - it's definitely a way to keep their spirit in my home. :)

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Helene said...

Wow! Look what I missed! Dang! The company, the canning, the spirit...This post is like an instant mood booster!

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous beyond said...

this is so great. (i wish i lived closer to you!) i can't wait to get my canning set and get canning. i'll have to do some research first. (i've never attempted anything but jams)

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Hello--I've been quietly reading your site since I was diagnosed with wheat allergy a year and a half ago. Thank you for a wonderful resource! But I just had to respond to this post--I absolutely love it that canning is catching on! It only took a massive recession to accomplish it, but it's finally back. I have been canning with my mom and grandmother since I was itty bitty and when I moved to Chicago 13 years ago at age 25, people made fun of my canning set up on the back porch of my city apartment, where I canned the tomatoes, green beans, and cukes I was getting in bushels from a 5 x 8 foot garden plot in the back corner of the apartment building's yard. But then they tasted my grandmother's pickles.... Who couldn't love them? I might be stuck in the city, but I will always garden and I will always can, even when it isn't the hip cool thing to do!

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A day of canning *and* discussing children's books?! That's my kind of day. :)
-Susann, a Betsy-Tacy fan

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Pearl said...

canning sounds absolutely fun!

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

um, where can i get one of those fabulous aprons?!?! My mum and I are spending a few days at the end of this month (when I travel several hours from the city up the coast for the Common Ground Fair and to visit) canning, preserving, pickling, etc.
just like we used to spend humid august days doing when i still had long braids and had to stand on a step stool to help. . .

cannot wait.

and would really love for us to wear aprons like that as we listen to diamonds and rust. . . drink sun tea and feel the fall chill coming through the open windows. . .

thank you for all your posts and gorgeous photos. . .jenny

At 6:17 PM, Blogger ruby-crowned kinglette said...

thanks for posting all your fun! i am thick in the middle of canning myself and have a stove that isn't right for my canning pot. what portable burners were you using, i would love to know since it sounds like they were powerful enough to keep the water boiling... thanks.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Elana said...

Figs are one of my favorite foods and your picture of them is absolutely amazing!

So nice to hear about the joy you take in preparing food with your friends. Heart warming, lovely and brings to mind the "olden days." :-)

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Ivy's kitchen said...

Last year I canned some of the those beautiful green figs. I roasted them with shallots, honey and balsamic vinegar and put them up in small jars to serve with pork roast. Your party looks like fun. I am usually trying to can on my own while watching my little girl - it's much more fun with friends.

At 4:45 AM, Blogger amy and ann said...

what fun! I am so happy I stumbled across your lovely blog. This is a good red. refreshing!

At 5:16 AM, Blogger Allison the Meep said...

This is going to sound so incredibly corny, but I can't look at your blog without feeling really happy and inspired.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Rachael Narins said...

I am so inspired to can corn. I never even thought of that. (Silly me.) Must do that...TODAY!
Thanks love!
PS - always get a secret thrill seeing your beautiful L.C. in action. Hee hee.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Anna said...

This looks fabulous. I canned some blueberry jam this weekend and plan to do lots of tomatoes soon. Even though I do it all the time, I just can't get over how beautiful, inspiring and just amazing home made food is.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Kris said...

Just got done canning 19 pints of amazingly flavorful salsa (including bell peppers of red, orange, yellow and green hues), this will bring my grand total of salsa to 69 pints!! No big canning parties in our little kitchen, only me plugging away through August and September, 11 quarts of spaghetti sauce here, 10 more quarts a week or so later. Fifteen quarts of applesauce made by husband and daughters, since they're the ones who eat it.

Plenty of frozen produce too: strawberries, rhubarb, garlic scape pesto, blueberries, broccoli (first ever from my own garden!), chopped greens (beet, chard, spinach, kale, onion), corn, green beans, multi-colored bell peppers. Dried or frozen herbs from our backyard: apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, oregano, cilantro, savory. Hundreds of heads of garlic curing in the shed.

All this wonderful local food, ready to eat in the middle of winter when sun-ripe tomatoes are a distant memory.

Now I understand my mom's pride each year at harvest time. She would take a photograph of her root cellar shelves loaded with colorful jars of food for winter. Intense work for a time, but ever so satisfying to provide for my family all year from a few months of garden and kitchen labor.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger leedav said...

That's IT! I'm totally flying out for Canvolution 2010! And thanks for the push to get back in the kitchen for another batch. Frankly, I'm running out of steam at this point in the preserving season. I guess I should invite some friends over. ;-)

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Bec said...

Kay, Shauna. You can't post a picture of the burnt sugar g-free cake without adding the looks so amazing! Please, oh please, share how to replicate it.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Chef Fresco said...

Wow, that was a mess of canning that went on. I gotta get on this canning bandwagon it looks like so much fun. I never have seem to get over a childhood incident involving some pickling lime in the eye which resulted in me wearing and eye patch for three weeks. I was 9 then and I'm 27 now. Perhaps it's time I give it another shot.

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Cannelle Et Vanille said...

reminds me of the tomato and tuna canning parties we used to have growing up at the end of the summer. what a great get together.. dishes and all!

At 3:00 AM, Blogger Heather Pelczar said...

What a delight!!! I have many memories of canning wild blackberries in the north of Oregon with family in much the same way. Apples sauce by the gallon, peaches straight from the tree...those were good times. I loved Boxcar Children and Harriet the Spy! (I could be neighbors with you I think.)

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Amy J said...

Great idea! Certainly would keep me going to have friends and conversation. I get burnt out AND bored quickly. Thanks for sharing!

At 5:11 AM, Blogger Kate said...

Wish I had found that Canning Across America site earlier this summer! So far, we have canned 3 types of cucumber pickles, zucchini pickles, brandied apricots, strawberry jam, blueberry jam, peach jam, and peach pancake syrup.
Apple butter is next!

At 9:50 PM, Blogger kelly said...

i am not sure what has happened in our society, convenience i guess, which we thought was a great thing but my whole family canned everything and i know how to do nothing, i wish i would have paid more attention to my grandma's and aunts, it is nice to see that some old fashioned ways are returning, we need that! good for you for your GF canning party, wish i could have been there! i have my daughter reading your book, she just spent the summer in seattle and she loved it and loves the book!

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Simply Colette said...

Just found you! sign me up for the daily subscription. I've been having problems with Gluten and it's so hard to give up. Your food diaries look inspirational. My boyfriend just took a job with Alcat they do the food allergy testing. So fascinating!

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just canned - water boiled my first jam. It is pears, candied ginger, and pineapples. Hope will turn out good, the mixture really tasted good. I will try my first peach jam tomorrow. Have peaches from last weeks csa delivery. Also got pears. Thanks for inspiring me. Can't wait until the snow to taste my pear jam. YUMMY.

kathy b

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous danielle said...

Hello! I just discovered your blog. It's great! I wanted to share some news I just discovered. The lining/seal on the top of the canning lids have BPA. With all the talk about BPA and SIGG I was searching around and found it. I use Ball jars for everything. There is a brand by Wecks? that is ALL glass. But they said if you are storing upright and the food doesn't touch the top seal, it won't leach into your food.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger gfe--gluten free easily said...

Wow, what a great time together! Canning in a group is definitely so much more enjoyable. :-)


At 5:47 PM, Blogger Nearly60 said...

Hello! I have just found your book and consequently this blog! The book is fantastic so far, thank you and I am very much looking forward to reading and browsing through your blog as well :) So, "hello" from me :)


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