“Hey you guys, I want to show you something,” Traci said shortly after we arrived at her place for a birthday party for my niece, Madison.
She had a huge grin on her face as she opened a cupboard in her kitchen. There, on a shelf where she probably once stashed her personal supply of Honeycomb cereal, were tidy rows of home-canned produce: Salsa. Green beans. Dill pickles. Sweet pickles. And now, after our Labor Day labors, pears, courtesy of a tree belonging to my sister-in-law Darcy’s parents.
As with so many aspects of our summer canning project, we sometimes get in over our head. Who knew it would take most of the day to process a couple of 5-gallon buckets of pears? (Probably Mom did, but it’s been so long since she’s done much canning that she’s been relearning some of the process herself.)
Even as we bumble into problems, we come up with new ways to streamline the process. Moving the pressure cooker outdoors is the single biggest innovation. It removes the risk of indoor explosions and gets the guys involved, manipulating the turkey fryer that powers the canner. The first time we watched it warily, as if an alien spaceship had landed on my parents’ patio, but now we’re gotten used to its hissy fits.
On Labor Day, we ran out of enthusiasm long before we ran out of pears. “Is this really worth the effort?” I kept thinking. Well … yes. It feels good, obviously, to eat food you’ve grown yourself. It feels good to spread out the workload, so that family members pitch in as they’re able and no one person gets overwhelmed. We’re even learning to laugh about screw-ups, past and present.
Eventually we ran out of Fruit Fresh, then sugar, and finally propane for the turkey fryer. We cut up the last of the pears to eat fresh, or dump into pies or cobbler.
As we were finishing up, my brother Brent tallied up the summer’s efforts so far:
Green beans: 36 quarts
Salsa: 30 pints plus 6 quarts
Pears: 12 pints plus 15 quarts
Tomatoes: 6 freezer boxes (so far) to make into salsa or spaghetti sauce later, plus a bunch of tomatoes still in the garden
Dill pickles: 12 quarts
Sweet pickles: 4 pints
Corn: 61 quart bags (frozen)
Strawberry jam: 84 boxes of various sizes