Some of my fondest growing up memories of late summer and early fall are of preserving food. Whether it was making jam, drying fruit or canning, I remember standing next to my mom, her on one side of the sink and I on the other, washing, peeling, pitting and slicing. I started out as the berry smasher. Then I worked up to slicer. Then I did all of the fruit preparation while she boiled jars, prepared syrups and handled hot jars.
Canning is hard work. In the heat of the summer it can turn into downright drudgery. My problem is that my eyes get too big for my canner. And my freezer. And my jars. And my shelves. Last year I bought six boxes of peaches. Really. There are three of us. We cannot eat six boxes of peaches in one winter. Not even if we eat them every day. I know. We still have twenty quarts left.
This year I had a plan. I took inventory of my freezer, my empty jars and my shelves of canned fruit. Then I made a list: quantities, type of fruit and what I was going to do with it. It looked like this:
2 flats blueberries – freeze
2 flats strawberries – 1 batch jam, freeze rest
2-3 flats raspberries – 2 batches jam, freeze rest
1 box cherries – dry
Can 24 quarts peaches
Freeze 2 gallons peaches
Can 24 quarts applesauce
12 pints bread and butter pickles
So here’s the problem with planning for fruit, the sun, rain and plants don’t necessarily follow along with my plans. It started with the plums. A family friend was on vacation when their plums were ripe. My uncle picked them, gave some to my mom and my mom gave some to me. Now some might not sound bad – unless it’s a box. Little man ate plums for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner. And I still had some leftover – so I made jam and froze it.
My blueberry patch closed. So I had to find a new one. The first place I went was terrible, but lucky for me blueberries grow well here. I picked my two flats and froze them just like the plan instructed. The strawberries and raspberries also went just as planned. So did the cherries.
Then came the cauliflower. I tasted some pickled and loved it. But why on earth would I buy pickled cauliflower when I could make it myself much cheaper? I went off to my favorite farm market and bought two heads of cauliflower and pickled 10 pints. I continued the pickling process and did my bread and butter pickles. Hubby came home and requested dills. I couldn’t tell him “no” now could I?
I had a reprieve for awhile. Let me restate that. I had a reprieve from fruit. We spent the month of August working on a trail at Smith Rock State Park. When I returned home, I found the two bottom drawers of my fridge full of pears, plus a box of them on the lower shelf. Pears? I didn’t plan for pears! There were no pears on my list. Mom was “storing” them in my fridge to delay their ripening because her fridge was full and she had stacks of boxes of ripe ones. Of course she wasn’t delaying the ripening for herself, she was delaying the ripening until I got home and could do something with them. So I dried them and canned them. And then Hubby requested pear butter. And Little Man requested pear sauce. And I couldn’t tell them “no” could I?
I was ready for apples. My parents have an old orchard with varieties that we don’t know. There is one yellow apple tree and then there are the “Connine apples.” The yellow one ripens first and I got my 24 quarts of applesauce. Of course there were extras so I dried some and then some more. At some point during the apples I realized I had forgotten to put tomatoes on my list. I canned 16 quarts of chili sauce and dried a few. Then Mom showed up with a box of prunes. Of course those needed to be dried. And then I declared canning season over. I was worn out and done with any kind of fruit or vegetable.
But the apples weren’t done with me. My brother picked apples until he ran out of boxes. He asked me to bring boxes over and when I arrived with six he looked at me with reproach and said “That’s all you have. That won’t even be a drop in the bucket.” I walked into Dad’s shop and there were stacks of boxes, buckets, bowls and enamelware pans. Anything that could hold apples had been recruited to do so. Everywhere I looked there were apples.
We made cider for two days. I made more applesauce. I dried more apples. I made apple bread. I fed rotting ones to my chickens. I made apple cake. I froze apples. We ate apples. I made Apple Dumpling Mess. I fed rotting ones to my sheep. I ran out of jars. I ran out of cupboard space. I ran out of freezer space and still I had two boxes of apples on the floor of my dining room.
We had lunch at Mom and Dad’s yesterday. Dad was still eating apples. I’m really, really hoping that canning season is over. But I will not be foolish enough to declare it so – we haven’t made grape juice yet.