Why do the mundane and repetitive work of canning food? What are the reasons that make it anything more than a hobby?
In our high velocity American culture that values speedy profit at the expense of quality and continuity, we increasingly hear complaints about food. The vast majority of foods consumed in our country are unnatural ~ drenched in preservatives and other consumer pleasing chemicals, genetically modified, and highly processed from their original form. Factory farming is quite rightly under attack by thinking people, and there’s been a movement towards ‘organic’ consumption for those who can afford it. For people with open eyes and willingness to research their culture’s food, there have come shouts and demands for companies to be responsible and honest, even whole movements attempting to take down GMO giants. Simply put, food has become highly political and much of it is no longer real food.
Of course, this information isn’t new. Having researched all these issues in the early ’90s, I made it a goal before having children to produce and preserve my own food to the fullest degree possible. Reaching that goal doesn’t come easily. The methods of growing and preserving aren’t obviously or readily available, and that is a major reason for this blog I write. It’s definitely a learning curve, and the pantry becomes more packed with canning each year as I gain knowledge and efficiency. T
he best information, as all veteran canners know, comes through heritage and word of mouth ~ what that back-to-lander mama showed us years ago, what grandma used to do in the kitchen. Again, this is the very reason for writing Soul & Stomach.
Rather than shout and rant about the wrongness of companies and their chemical food production, my response is this: grow it, gather it, can it, cook it ~ myself.
It is quite true that ‘buying organic’ is a great economic barrier for the majority of American families. But it is even more true that if one’s mind is concentrated on growing and gathering without cost, it is a tangible reality.
I made a decision over a decade ago that whatever I was to preserve or can would be procured without payment, through growing my own, barter, good will or good finds. And just by that force of decision, there hasn’t been a dollar spent.
Here’s how: make it known to neighbors and friends that you want to preserve food and you’ll give them a sample of your work, offer what you can in barter for fruits and vegetables you can’t manage yourself, look for wild fruit trees on public land, find out who is at the end of their harvests with more than they can handle to process, cultivate good will, and above all, grow your own!
Preserving food is labor intensive, there is no way around it. But here is the main point of that work: it is fundamentally good and joyful.
Say you have 10 gallons of apricots. You can count on methodically washing, pitting, and sorting them for a good deal of a morning. You may want to juice them, make jam or nectar so that all their nutrients are preserved for the dead cold of winter ~ it will take you all day.
But as you work, you find that your fingers become more nimble, more efficient, and your mind focuses on the beauty of your activity. Suddenly you realize it is meditative, fingers and thoughts having found a rhythm. What seemed mundane and repetitive has become peaceful, comforting, actually desirable and above all, natural. You find yourself thinking about how you might procure more fruit for the next project.
When done, the satisfaction with the work that fills your heart is not an empty pride but rather a wholesome fullness that matches the fullness of God’s creation of these beautiful fruits made to nourish your family and sustain your life. The tiredness you feel is similar to the sweet muscle aches after climbing a mountain. You know without a doubt that this work was meant to be, was done by many mothers before you, and it is good work.
It is all this and more that makes canning as necessary and worthy now as it has ever been. Good food should feed the spirit as well as the body, and this is what makes canning a spiritual practice.
Love from our kitchen pantry to yours, Gina @ Soul & Stomach
NOTE: On Soul & Stomach you will find recipes and methods for all the canned goods you see in this article, applesauce, salsas, jams, juices, nectars, marinara, chutneys, and more to come. Check the Recipe Index for these.