Self-preservation is in the can |

Self-preservation is in the can

Like Joe Wiley and Tina Ennis, I love to can (preserve food). Two canners can have an intensely satisfying discussion on whether to use lemon juice or vinegar when putting up tomatoes. Sadly, putting food by seems to be a dying art.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but the end result is that, on a cold and snowy day, I open up a couple quarts of apples picked from my own tree and make a pie. Pie. A pie. Pieee. Are you aware that sometimes people make pies in their own home? Oh, I know that you, beloved friends, are old hands at baking, but that skill, too, is disappearing.

I know, I know, life has gotten way too fast to focus on at-home stuff like baking pies or cakes or making a batch of jam. It’s far more convenient to buy these things in a store, and I totally understand that. But because old Aunt Granny Viv likes you so much, I want to help you look like a canner with very little effort on your part.

Let’s start with blackberries, which are ready to pick. Your required picking equipment consists of a set of disposable clothing called rags. The only container you need is your tummy , which you may fill to the tippy tippy top with fresh, sweet berries hot from the sun. Take your time. This is Nevada County; there’s no rush.

You might pick up some scratches from the thorns, and your hands will get quite stained from the berry juice. You want that. By all means, wash your hands when you’re done, but they’ll still be as blue as your tongue. This is a good thing.

You may now trot around town visiting neighbors, shopping, etc., explaining to one and all: “Oh lawsy me, Ah’ve bin berry pickin’ since dawn las’ Tewsday. I have eleventeen gallons sittin’ on my kitchen counter right this very minute, ready to can. My stars, I am so busy!” Do you see where I’m going with this, dear sisters?

You really don’t need funnels, ladles, lids, big pots of boiling water, none of that. Buy three or four Mason jars at a garage sale and park ’em on your kitchen counter. Forever. That’s it. Just keep ’em dusted, like you’re gonna use ’em real soon.

The reason your drop-in guest found you sitting at your kitchen table reading a tabloid and drinking iced tea is because you’ve just spent the whole danged morning canning and you’re taking a well-deserved break from cleaning up the mess … except for those three or four jars on the counter.

Another very handy prop is an item of clothing called an apron, commonly pronounced “a-pern” – can we all say that word together – oh thank you! Your apron must be terminally stained yet recently washed; you may wear it all day long, as it shows other people how industrious you are, how dedicated to the domestic arts, how completely full of – oh, never mind.

You can nonpreserve food in this manner the whole year round. Just buy a bit of an in-season fruit or veggie at your nearest store and park it next to the jars.

If anyone has the nerve to ask to see all this food storage, murmur that your husband 1) just stocked and locked the root cellar for the winter and swallowed the key; (2) buried everything in the back yard in a special hidden chamber; and/or 3) walled it up between the studs in the garage. Because Armageddon is coming, and he wants to be ready. Hey, if it works for me, it’ll work for you.


Vivian Herron is a longtime resident of the town of Washington whose column appears on Saturdays. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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