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Sunday, August 21, 2016


Writing is blissful! Editing, not so much. So today I’ll talk about canning.

I love to can, specifically to pickle. I’ve pickled nearly everything, and long before Portlandia came out with their satire, "We Can Pickle That". (Is it coincidence that I happen to live in Portland Oregon?) From bananas to kumquats, daikon to habanero peppers, and of course from Apples to Zucchini, I’ve given it a try. Not everything comes out, but most of the time I end up with something one wouldn’t find at one’s local grocery store.

I began pickling when I was a hippie on a Canadian communal farm back in ’72. My first attempt was a recipe called Fir Tip Marmalade. I decided on that recipe because fir tips, that soft bright-green new growth of the Douglas fir tree, were plentiful in the Vancouver Island bush. I doubled the recipe, didn’t use pectin because I had no money with which to buy any, and canned it in quarts. The good news was they all sealed; the funky news was that I ended up with 21 quarts of pungent syrup. If anyone has drunk the Greek wine, Retsina, a wine infused with the flavor of pine resin, you can guess at the flavor.

I got better. I learned to follow recipes. I adjusted the size of jar for the type of condiment. I practiced. I did it a each autumn. I wrote down everything: every change, every modification, every quirk. That is my Big Book, and I use it to this day.

Today I’m pickling beets and hot dill cukes. Yesterday my husband picked plums from our tree that as soon as our tomatoes ripen will become Chinese Plum Sauce, Plum-Tomato Barbeque Sauce, HP Sauce, and juice (without the tomatoes). To me, the rhythm of canning comes close to the rhythm of writing, where I fall into that timeless place, that here-and-now place, and the rest of the world goes away. Though one is sedentary and cerebral and the other, tactile and a bit frenzied, they share a common thread: they both produce something I love.

This winter, when I open the crunchy habanero dills, when I spoon the plum sauce on our pork roast, when I drink dark plum juice mixed with sparkling soda, I can sit back once again and be proud of these summertime creations.

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Happy reading! (and canning!)

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