Saturday, September 27, 2008

Whatever Works

This weekend the girls and I have been up to our elbows in food preservation.

It feels a little farmy. Also a little WPA. The country is reportedly pulling out its dusty old Mason jars in time of economic hardship, returning to our grandparents' proven ideals of frugality and thrift.

Reportedly. When I went to get lids for my canning jars in the neighboring small town, I was told they were "out." The nice clerk informed me that "broke people like to 'put up' food." So I guess the financial disaster that's been all over the front page moved pretty quickly to the pocketbooks of my fellow canning afficionados and a bunch of newbies. People in financial difficulty like to can their own food, and the store didn't predict this, so they under-ordered lids and jars and such.

I didn't know about this chain of events. I thought broke people liked to window shop:

And then stop for a cup of coffee, black, no sugar, and to then watch the people go by:

(Ignore the shopping bag there. It's not frugal to actually buy something in the cute shops.)

Canning and freezing our produce, the last time I checked my bank account, is not cheap. I'm sure all the garden prep and organic seedlings and freaking deer prevention cost much more than a dozen trips to Trader Joe's. So if we're not doing this to save money, why did I get all sticky and end the day with a pail full of pear peelings? Well, part of the reason we like to preserve food is because we know what went in it.

I love dried pears more than cheesecake. And that's saying a lot. But the dried fruit at the supermarket is coated in high fructose corn syrup before it's dried. Say what? And the canned stewed tomatoes at the store have more sodium than a cup of insanity-producing saltwater. (I don't know that last thing for a fact, it just sounded funny in my head. I might be a little loopy from the hum of the dehydrator coupled with the steam from the canner.)

Here is what I know: So far today we have canned and sliced and dried 30 pounds of pears, seasoned and stewed and frozen 18 quarts of tomatoes, and grated and bagged and frozen enough zucchini for a dozen loaves of zucchini bread.

Then we had pizza for dinner. Because I like to keep 'em guessing, that's why.

Tomorrow the boxes upon boxes of apples will become applesauce and canned apple pie filling. Did you know that if you pre-cook and can your apple pie filling, the filling will actually fill the pie crust? (Instead of shrinking and leaving the crust high and dry.) I did not know that until this year. After the apples, I'm attacking plum preserves and pepper jelly. Have you ever had pepper jelly? A little of summer's heat in the middle of the winter, that's what I like to call it.

Then, after the jellies and preserves... it's chevre time.

That's right. This week we are making goat cheese with fresh milk from my neighbor's Nubian goats. Oh, yum. This is a completely new farm (and homeschool) endeavor, and we are so excited! Traditional "chevre," which just means "goat," is also known as "farmer's cheese." It's spreadable like cream cheese and has a tangy flavor like plain yogurt. If you do it right. We'll see how it goes. Some of the cheese websites we have been reading are written by Ph.D.s.

Biology doctorates, the internet, and cheese. It's a beautiful thing. They know what they're doing, so we don't have to. In this way the cheese is separated from the whey. No, I mean the curds. Or, I mean, the cheese process is different from the fruits and vegetables. I clearly don't know what I mean. But I do know what goes into the cheese: my neighbor's goat milk, some natural cultures, and some rennet. (I don't know what rennet is, but I know it's not as hard to spell as some of the stuff on the cheese I buy at the store.)

The girls and I recently went to the movie theater and saw the American Girl movie about "Kit" and the Great Depression. The story rambles over concepts of equality and features some really cute costumes, and just happens to include a little history. Incidentally Sarah was riveted to the Presidential debate on television last night. The EGE was still at work, and the other girls were otherwise occupied, but Sarah and I were similarly focused on the candidates' opinions and positions.

She wants to know whether we are facing something like Kit and her (fictional) family did in the Great Depression. No, Sarah, we're not. We're not losing our home, and Daddy's not losing his job. We're not taking in boarders. But like a lot of mainstream (if I heard "Main Street versus Wall Street" one more time in that debate, I think I'd have puked) families, we have felt the personal effects of the economy. I don't know what the definition of a financial depression or recession is, but I know that a disproportionate number of our neighbors have lost their jobs in nearby high-tech fields and banks and the real estate industry.

We don't preserve food because we are "broke." We preserve food because something about our society is "broken." I believe we have lost touch with where our food (clothing, automobile, laptop computer, ideology) comes from. It may seem trivial, but to me it's fundamental, to know and appreciate what we're doing.

Our next-door neighbors in town had a little girl Madeleine's age who did not recognize a tomato on the vine. For my part, I personally have no concept of what it takes to put a technology product on the market or the what it takes to keep the economy humming. And most Americans, I believe, feel completely out of touch with what the lending crisis (and accompanying real estate and market crises) means to them. But whether we understand it or not, it will likely affect us and our children's generation profoundly.

Seven hundred billion dollars. It takes a long time to type. This is what makes me preserve food, really. I know I can take the occasional shopping trip. I know I can afford my latte when I want one. I know I don't know hardship. And I know I don't know what this bailout, or the lack of one, will mean to me. I don't pretend to have an opinion, because it boggles me. Fruit doesn't.

So I submit, to the Bi-Mart clerk who said, "broke people like to 'put up' food," that it's not about the pantry. It's about doing something tangible to take care of ourselves and our families. We return to the familiar and the comforting like a robin in a windstorm. I'm just nesting.

I'm just folding my farm-fresh eggs into batter, lining my jars up on the shelves, because this is completely within my control. I can understand the economy of a garden and the provision for my family. I can't understand what's happened to the families who are losing their homes or to the bank employees who are carrying boxes of personal belongings down flights of stairs, to go home to be unable to pay their own mortgages.

I'm just nesting.

Main Street or Wall Street.


Katie said...

Whatever works indeed. In my case, what ever I can snatch from the mouths of the vegan dog and the rotten chickens!!

I am jealous of your nesting!

Katie said...


the fact that you posted such a lovely and LONG blog! Why, whenever did you find the time??

YOU ROCK and you know it!

HonuGirl said...


Bam!! The proverbial nailhead hit by Mirian!

Now if I had any clue how to umm can fruit or grow it for that matter ... I'm sure it would somehow be therapeutic.

But given that I only know how to "open" the jars to partake in the yummy goodness others' shared with me ...

I gesture with a bow -- in awe at your farmgirl "greatness"!!

Whoo-hoo! I concur, my friend, YOU totally ROCK!!

HonuGirl said...

ps: my fingers typed too fast for eyes to catch & edit ... sorry about your name.



Dick Daring said...

M-way to grasp at all those tantalizing threads and weave them so neatly! YOU ARE SO RIGHT FREAKING ON!

Toni said...

You have so eloquently posted my thoughts and feelings. And those garden boxes I built three years ago? Yeah, they are so coming out of storage so I can actually use them. I will turn that backyard desert into something productive for more than rattlesnakes and gophers (I hope).