Last night at about 12:45, I completed my first canning experience.
I’ve seen ‘canning kits’ at stores, and know several friends who have willingly purchased Mason Jars to sip their summer drinks out of. The whole thing is laughable. Canning is not an idyllic, fun experience that families gather around to do together. No aspect of canning should be packaged and put in a kit and sold on a cap aisle.
I would like to take this opportunity and borrow words from an experienced rancher who has years more expertise than yours truly:
“To be a Ranch of Farm Wife is to be afflicted with an overpowering urge to can. NOT to can all your garden produce would cause an unbearable burden of guilt.. Even thinking about canning causes a sticky-footed lurch to your step as you remember the gluey, syrupy mess from spilled-over and boiled-over liquids..Lurking in the storage shed and fruit cellar are baskets and boxes of empty fruit jars, jelly jars, odd bottles, and interesting glass containers (The fruit cellar, over the winter months, has become a hatchery for creepy wildlife). Clustered in the top kitchen cupboards are more bottles and jars of assorted sizes and shapes. No Country Woman has enough jars. Each year the need for more increases until your husband becomes convinced you’re a jar addict. Jar collecting is, however, merely a desperate and futile hedge against the avalanche of fruits and vegetables that must be ‘put up.’ Somehow you have a feeling that if you collect enough jars, canning won’t be so bad this year. But it will be. Canning will be bad this year and next year and on and on forever. There is no way to make canning really fun, unless you hire someone to do it for you..There are two periods of time that are best for canning. At these times, other humans and all animals are quietly asleep..Early morning is the favored time for many. The other time slot preferred by some is the 10:00pm-1:00am shift. Whichever time you choose, remember to PREPARE ahead. Clear the kitchen table, the counter tops, and every surface in sight of the usual litter. Place canning kettles on stove. Have plenty of long-handled wooden spoons at the ready. Line up a stack of boxes of fruit jars on standby alert on the back porch. On the sink counter, have washed, scalded and turned upsidedown on clean cloths a multitude of jars. Be sure you have plenty of lids of the correct size!”
–How to Shovel Manure by Gwen Peterson
Beginning to can Zucchini Relish begins with Zucchinis. Sadie and I picked several worthy specimens from the garden that grew to the size of our forearms. Cutting the ends of the said vegetable and slicing it in half leaves the job of scooping out the seeds, much like you do with cantaloupe, but much less fun. We then take a cheese grater, or for the fancier folk, the heel-tool used in pedicures, and shred the zucchini to oblivion. Sadie decided we had enough for a “double batch” which sounded like more fun than anything else I had planned for the afternoon. We then chopped and diced 8 cups of peppers, 4 cups of onions (complete with tears) and stirred in with salt. Once the veggies were blended, we covered the cauldron and let it chill for 5 hours.
For those 5 hours, we were not idle. Oh no, much like Gwen described, we spent time in the basement collecting buggy jars, finding lids and rims, then toting the whole mess upstairs to the waiting kitchen counters. Watching Sadie prepare to can is much like watching Mr. Bolt run a sprint, or your favorite President deliver an amazing speech. She filled one side of the sink with hot, soapy water and added a splash of bleach. We washed, rinsed and dried the assortment of jars, then put them in the oven at 200 degrees. We then heated a small saucepan on the stove and put a handful of flat lids to warm. Next, Sadie dragged out the largest pot I have ever seen, to which we added 5 cups of vinegar, 8 cups of sugar, several tablespoons of turmeric powder, an accidental tablespoon of cloves, and a few teaspoons of crushed pepper.
Sadie brought the mixture to a boil, and if you haven’t smelled hot vinegar yet – let me tell you, it crawls up your nose and down your throat like nothing else. We finally added the massive double batch of zucchini and friends. I had the task of waiting for the whole lot to boil while stirring it enough to ensure nothing would stick. We let it boil for 5 minutes, and then brought it down to a simmer. This is where the warmed jars and lids come in: Moving with ease and practice, Sadie pulled a jar from the oven and set it on the stove. She found a dark green funnel from somewhere, and spooned 2 or 3 ladles of syrupy hot goo from the pot, and filled the jar up a quarter inch from the top. She moved the jar off the stove and wiped any remaining relish from the rim, fishing the warmed flat lid from the pot with a small magnet. Drying the flat lid, she placed it over the clean jar and screwed on the ring lid to finish. Sadie instructed me that the cap must be screwed on as tightly as possible, then turned upside down.
Somehow, all those veggies, the hot jars and lids, and being upside down equal canning. As the heat from the relish, jars and lid cooled, it self-seals the jar and ensures a fresh batch for years to come. Once I got the rundown, I donned the apron and stepped up to the stove. Canning is hot, sticky, smelly and tedious. For all of that preparation, execution, and placement, we completed 14 cans of Zucchini Relish. Which we are now free to eat, give away, trade, or sell until the sun rises. Sadie told me I did so well, I now have green beans, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to look forward to. Anyone need a jar of relish?