A couple of afternoons ago, Danny and I set out for the bluffs overlooking the sound a few moments from our home, Little Bean on my back and an 8-quart cambro in Danny’s hand. The first rain in months had come and gone in the morning, leaving everything smelling damp and alive. We sang to Little Bean as we walked, who squirmed in her carrier trying to look over my shoulder, to see where we were headed.
We were going blackberry picking.
This may be my favorite time of the year. Blackberries grow ripe purple on the vine in the Pacific Northwest, in backyards and public parks, and along nearly every road. Here, though, we have a secluded walk, away from the street, where the blackberry vines grow as high as houses and the berries are sweet without being coated in car exhaust.
We settled into a patch with fat berries. Ignoring the thorns as much as possible, while keeping them away from Little Bean’s legs, I dove in. Every year that I can, I pick blackberries. The thorns that attack me may leave my arms looking like a skating rink at the end of a long day. The sun may grimace too hot on my head by the end. But I stand there picking, moving from one spot to another in a constant quest for the biggest berry, never coming to terms with the fact that the best ones are always out of reach.
There’s something humbling about standing in front of a vine that produces fall-apart-in-their-sweetness berries at the same time each year. There’s a much bigger force at work in their presence than my desire for pie.
However, pie is always a good motivating force.
As we picked, I noticed that Danny’s hands moved more slowly than mine. That’s fine, but it’s certainly not the norm. After humming to Little Bean and moving my hips to keep her dancing, I looked over again. And then it hit me. “Sweetie, is the first time you’ve ever picked blackberries?”
“Yes,” he said, reaching up for another one.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me. Every summer before this, Danny has been in a restaurant kitchen, working on the line, getting ready for dinner service. He knows much more about food than I do, but he never had the time for an entire afternoon given to picking blackberries.
This has been such a beautiful summer.
We picked 4 quarts, a mighty pile. We were trying to fill that cambro, but Little Bean grew antsy. My hands were pretty scratched by then, too.
We walked home singing in the late afternoon sun.
And soon there will be blackberry jam, tasting of fat berries and sugar, a little lemon juice, maybe a touch of sage, and the lift of that afternoon. The sun on our hair. The baby on my back. The relaxation of Danny outside of a restaurant kitchen. The ritual for me, the joy for him, the newness of it all for our daughter.
In January it could be I’ll taste all of that in a spoonful of blackberry jam.
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Have you been canning this summer? Making raspberry jam? Tomato sauce for the winter? Pickling okra or maybe zucchini?
We’re certainly not alone.
Putting up the surfeit of summer food for the dearth of winter? Old as time can tell, really. Our grandmothers probably had this knowledge in their hands. These days, most of us need the tutelage of older friends, books and blog posts to learn how to deal with our food directly.
I’m just learning, really. Four summers ago, I made raspberry freezer jam for the first time. And looking at that post flashes my mind with the understanding just how long ago that was. I’ve come to know so many foods well now, foods I never even knew I existed before I stopped eating gluten. More than that, however, I have a much more direct relationship with the food I eat now. Making my own jam and pickles seems natural.
I like what Amanda Hesser wrote in a piece about preserving in The New York Times yesterday:
“If you choose to watch a rerun of Friends rather than whip up some canned peaches one night this summer, then in the middle of February youll find yourself eating Chunky Monkey for dessert when you could have been indulging in a bowl of juicy peaches, lightly glazed in syrup.”
There are so many reasons to put up our own food for the winter besides the sensory pleasures. I’d love to hear yours. But those of us with food allergies or intolerances in particular would do well to learn how to preserve our own food. That way, we know exactly what goes into it.
Have you been wanting to learn how to can jams and pickles, conserves and spreads? This is our summer.
There’s a Canvolution going on.
It started on Twitter, of course.
One afternoon, about six weeks ago, a bunch of us were sitting on Twitter, talking about food and the tiny details of our lives. Kim O’Donnel, good food writer and excited-about-life person I like, mentioned that an organization in San Francisco is having an event called Yes, We Can, a community canning project intending to teach people how to capture produce at the peak of its season. “Why don’t we have one in Seattle?”
I offered up our home for a canning party and sent out an email to our friends on Twitter. Someone else suggested another event. Marissa, who writes the wonderfully useful food blog Food in Jars, lamented that she couldn’t be here to help. We invited her. She thought, then booked a ticket. And thus, an amazing gathering began taking shape. We have been looking forward to it ever since.
Everyone on the invite list is bringing a flat of produce, in season that week, or a dozen canning jars. We’re asking everyone to bring an equal amount in cash, which we’ll donate to the local food bank. And then we’ll spend the rest of the day talking and chopping, stirring and laughing, measuring and boiling, sharing stories and putting jars in hot water baths. By the end of the day, everyone will go home with at least 1 jar of something for the winter. And, I’m guessing, much more.
Of course, ours is just one house, just one party. The best part is that there will be dozens and dozens of canning parties happening across America that same weekend. Thousands of you will be macerating blackberries, pickling cucumbers, and laughing together. Just take a look at the list of parties and canning events going on in August and September, after this little revolution began. Why not plan your own today?
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And there are also classes galore. If you live in the Seattle area, here are two extraordinary classes you can attend:
Thursday August 20th from /
Location: Kathy Casey Food Studios
What you always wanted to know about preserving
but no one will tell you!
· Jams, Preserves, Conserves and Chutneys- using unique combinations
· Flavored Sugars and Salts
· Fruiting Vinegars and Booze
· Fresh Style Pickling
· Freezing the bounty/garden booty for later preserving
This will be a demo style class with some hands-on. Each attendee will take home at least 1 jar/container of preserved goodness. The class will be based upon what is in season that week. Also, Kathy will have commercial canning jars available for purchase, info on where you can get PH meters and some of her put-up creations made this summer.
(I can’t wait to attend this one!)
And Marissa, who will be flying all the way from Philadelphia for our party, lined up a great class from Sunday, August 30th while she’s here:
2. Canning Basics with Marisa McClellan: Fruit Jam
Sunday, August 30, 2009
2:00 to 3:30 PM
Learn just how easy it is to make and can a batch of jam from scratch. If youve never done any canning because you think its too complicated, this class will change your mind and your pantry forever. Each student will head home with the knowledge they need to make their own jam (as well as a small jar of the jam made in class that day). To sign up, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I havent determined what kind of jam well make in the class, Im planning on waiting to see what looks good when I get into town the day before. I assure you though, whatever we make is certain to be delicious.
The class will be held at Starry Nights Catering & Events, 11200 Kirkland Way, #220, Kirkland, WA.
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With all this, do you need more?
Well, there are some extraordinary books out there about canning and preserving. Some of the ones that have caught my eye lately?
This summer, I have become utterly besotted with Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber, thanks to my friend Viv. Christine Ferber has changed the way I make jams, utterly. I’ll never use pectin again.
So there’s no reason to be afraid of making your own preserves. Take a class, gather friends, or read a book they would all be a great start.
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However, if you are entirely new to the process, I’d love to suggest another book:
Some form of this book has been around for more than 100 years. Novices love its clear explanations. People who have been canning for decades have well-thumbed copies with smudges on most of the pages.
And now, you can own it too.
Thanks to the folks at Jarden Home Brands, the folks who make the Ball Brand Fresh Preserving Products, I have a Fresh Preserving Kit to give away. Included is a giant canning pot, along with a rack, wide-mouth funnel, jar lifter, head space/bubbling tool and lid wand. And a copy of The Ball Blue Book of Preserving.
I want you to be part of the Canvolution too.
Just leave a story here to be eligible for the giveaway. When did you preserve food? Have you ever hosted a canning party? Have you made your own pickles? Any mishaps? What are your favorite flavor combinations? Do you remember a grandmother (or maybe a grandfather), aunt, mother canning for the winter? What does all this mean to you? We’d love to hear.
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What are you waiting for? Start canning!