Preservation

%22Grow_More...Can_More...in_'44%22_-_NARA_-_514422

I wouldn’t exactly call it an expertise because I see it more as an obligation. It’s something I’m drawn to and I’m not sure why. It started with an invitation from a co-worker to make strawberry freezer jam. We used our hands to mash the strawberries and mix in the sugar granules. Though the berries had been thawed, my hands burned from the cold. The next year I tried on my own. This time I made raspberry freezer jam from the bushes in our yard. The twenty pints didn’t even make it past September thanks to my father’s sweet tooth.

In early autumn of the same year I decided I would branch out and pickle jalapeños. I’d accidently planted three too many plants and I had buckets of peppers. My family could only scarf down so many cream-cheese-stuffed-peppers and I didn’t want to waste my garden’s produce. I pickled the whole house with my sugar-vinegar mixture cooking on the stovetop.  Like a machine, I sliced hundreds of peppers, placed them on the grill to cook, and blanched them in the pickling juices. I learned only after that I should have worn gloves.

%22Let_Your_Fruit_Trees_Save_Sugar.%22,_ca._1917_-_ca._1919_-_NARA_-_512514

 

This year I moved on to more extensive preservation projects—12 types of jams, 4 kinds of marmalade, twenty-four quarts of home-made spaghetti sauce, and more peppers. This does not include the homemade pesto sauce which is pre-measured and frozen into 2 tablespoon individual packets, and many more cans of tomatoes. I’m not entirely sure why I feel obligated to spend ten hours over a pot of boiling vinegar and burning my fingers on the hot cans.  Something about the sporadic pops in the next room hours after while I rest on the couch tells me it’s worth it.

Living Memorials

 

Southern_Magnolia_Tree_Drawing

My grandmother has miniature memorials surrounding her house. Various plants mark the land like tombstones. The small plots are marked by lilies—Tiger and African, a Magnolia tree, a few Bleeding Hearts, hens and chickens spread throughout, and one Champagne rose bush gone wild. Each plant has been lifted off a funeral floral arrangement or bluntly dug up from a family member’s yard and delicately planted in her flower beds. She has named them according to family members who have passed before her, and she knows exactly the location of each along with the date of her loved one’s passing. While fighting back the relentless weeds or trimming her rose bushes, she speaks to them. She calls them by name and refers to them as if the humans they signify were as alive as the plants which represent them.

Her first was the Champagne rose bush which she dug up from the family farm after the land was split up amongst the boys and sold off. Next, was Grandpa Perkins’s African Lilly which emerges from its bulb every spring and finally blooms in late July. Then there were the chickens and hens from Grandma Hansen’s house on Sylvester Street that were broken up and transplanted against the well house. The longest traveler of them all was Sharon’s orange lily. My grandmother snatched up shortly after it emerged from the ground in early spring. She dug up the bulb, planted it in a Dixie cup, and smuggled it on the plane ride from St. Louis, Missouri all the way to Pasco, Washington. One of the last plants she calls by name are the bleeding hearts; they were not stolen or borrowed, they were bought, and she planted while my grandfather watched. It was the last time he was able to set foot on his lawn. Now when she looks under the pine tree out front, where only bleeding hearts and weeds will grow, she thinks of him.

Two years following my grandfather’s death she desperately wanted to sell her house. She had it in her mind that if she moved she would be able to shake the empty feeling my grandfather left behind. I don’t think she remembered how she had already welcomed him and all the others to live alongside her. With frantic pleas I begged her to keep the house. I selfishly wanted her to live there forever so I could always have a place to return to; I wanted a place where my grandfather would always be. Being cremated, he does not have anything marking his short presence in this world—no plaque or tombstone, just a bleeding heart and my grandmother who has marked it with her mind.

She had one interested buyer. Shortly after seeing the house they signed the papers and told my grandmother she had exactly two months to pack her things and leave. My mother told me after the fact, and she mentioned the short amount of time my grandma had left to move. I had figured the last time I had visited her would be my last time I would step foot in that house. I thought from then on that I would forever be considered an outsider when driving down her street. Never again would I swim in the pool that my six year old self drove a four-wheeler into; never again would I stare into the fire pit my grandfather built; and never again would I work alongside my grandmother, listening to the muffled conversations she had with her flowers.

The time came when she had only two weeks left before she had to move, She stood inside a house full of moving boxes and no place to move them. As she was searching for her new forever home she got a call. It was the realtor and the sale had fallen through. Being a car saleswoman for the past twenty years, my grandmother is used to sales falling through. She has lost sales for many reasons; maybe it is because the customer found a better deal at the competitors, or because no bank in town will loan $20,000 to somebody without credit and a hundred dollar down payment, or perhaps they just simply change their mind. But the loss of this sale changed the course of her life.

At first she was livid. She had spent so much time packing. She had envisioned herself somewhere else. She was set on leaving her grief to live eternally within 2820 W. Pearl Street. But then she began to slowly unpack, taking out only the necessities and returning them to their proper shelves. Eventually, she told my mom that she couldn’t really see herself living in a condo without a yard, or in a neighborhood where only a small patch of grass separated her from her neighbors. Instead, she began to make small changes throughout the house; she painted the living room and kitchen. She changed out the carpets and bought new windows. And finally, when she had come to accept my grandfather’s departure, she bought a miniature magnolia tree with a gift certificate she got at his funeral. The tree came to the middle of her 5 foot frame and it had only three leaves, but she planted anyway, certain it would grow. She watered it daily to deepen its root system, and today it stands taller than she. Last summer when she witnessed the magnolia’s first bloom, she thought of my grandfather.

The Girls Who Went Away

[fessler.jpg]

This past summer I read The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. I was interested in this topic because I had watched a documentary film titled When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories (1992) earlier in the year and was fascinated by the testimonies of women who were my grandmother’s age and older. These women told personal stories about their experiences with “illegitimate” pregnancies, adoptions, and botched and illegal abortions. The film also gave horrifying stories of countless women who died from amateur abortions and untrustworthy “doctors.” What initially drew me to both of these topics, adoption and abortion, was the fact that my grandmother became pregnant at age fourteen, married my sixteen-year old grandfather in Mexico (Mexico because nobody in the U.S. would marry them) shortly after, and gave birth to my mother at age fifteen. During the seventy-two hours she was in labor she almost died. I later learned that my grandfather’s parents desperately wanted her to give my mother up for adoption when they found out she was pregnant, but my grandmother’s father, Great Grandpa Perkins, would not allow a family member to be given up. I also learned from my grandma that she had never been given “the sex talk”; she hadn’t even been told what a period was or what it means for a woman. I find her story so unbelievable. While I’m glad my mother was not given up for adoption, because I would have never met my grandparents, I’m also partly infuriated that she was pushed into such a difficult life just because it was too risqué to talk about sex.

The book’s author, Ann Fessler, decided to write this book because she is an adopted child. Her research began with the desire to find her birth mother, and it eventually not only led her to her bio-mother but it also led her to a string of women who are much like her mother and my grandmother. It led her to respectable, older women who had been shamed into allowing their children be taken from them. Although the testimonies were painful to read I’m glad the author Ann Fessler did all the research for this book because I think this is just another part of American history that has covered up by society. 

Easy Independence Day Dessert

This involves more rhubarb, I know too much, but I promise you will love this; it’s rhubarb dump cake, and most likely you will already have all the ingredients stashed in you pantry. This recipe will work especially well if you need to bring a dish to a backyard BBQ, and you’re low on time. It’s simple, delicious, and semi-homemade.

Image

RHUBARB DUMP CAKE

1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (between 3 and 4 cups)
1 cup white sugar
1 (3 ounce package) strawberry jell-o
1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter, meltedPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. Spread the rhubarb evenly in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb, followed by the jell-o, and finally the cake mix. Pour the water and melted butter over the top. Do not stir. Bake for 45 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender.

Image
 As you can see, I added a few blueberries on top before baking; I had them lying around and I thought they went well with the red, white, and blue theme. If the rhubarb cake looks to involved for you, please, please make this one. You won’t regret it.

Canning Craze– Rhubarb Marmalade

Image

As you may already know my rhubarb plant is flourishing despite it being July. Because of this, and because I despise throwing things away, I have found one more rhubarb recipe to use–Rhubarb Marmalade. In my first canning craze post where I wrote about rosemary jelly, I mentioned all the wonderful taste of home recipes I found in their 2013 summer issue. From now on, it’s safe to assume all jam and jelly recipes I post about are from this issue.

For this recipe you need about 8 half-pints, the usual canning supplies, and a food processor. Another very important thing to take note of is that this recipe takes about an hour and a half to complete, so give yourself time. The great thing about this recipe is that it only calls for three ingredients. Alright, let’s get started.

RHUBARB MARMALADE

6 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb, chopped
6 cups sugar
2 medium oranges

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a Dutch oven on medium heat.

Image

Then grind oranges, including the peels, in a food processor; add to rhubarb mixture, and bring to a boil.

Image

Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring often until marmalade sheets from a spoon (about one hour).

Image

Remove from the heat; skim off foam. Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

I’ve already opened up my rhubarb marmalade and it’s a nice change from the berry jams I usually enjoy. Although the  citrus seems to be the star, you can still taste a nice hint of rhubarb in the background. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Poetry Monday- Dog Days of Summer

I spent the morning picking blueberries at an organic, u-pick blueberry farm near by. I’m thrilled to make those tasty berries into sweet blueberry jam, but more about that later in the week. By noon, me, my best friend from elementary school, and her two children, had already picked a whopping ten pounds. That’s pretty good for two little ones less than three feet tall!! I apologize if this seems like a side note, I promise I’m getting to the poetry folks, long story short, we only picked until noon because by then it was already triple digits. And now, at 5:30 in the evening it’s still 106 degrees outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat, but today got me thinking about the phrase “dog days of summer.”

Because it is sweltering outside (at least where I live) I’ve decided to dedicate this Poetry Monday to the dogs. Today, all of our poems will be coming from Bruce Guernsey’s collection titled From Rain: Poems, 1970-2010.

I purchased this collection while under the impression that I would need it for a poetry course, however, the collection was not on the syllabi. When I asked our professor if I should send it back in the mail, she firmly said no. She told me to read it front to back, treasure it, and learn from Guernsey’s use of every-day objects in his poetry. The back of the collection’s cover says the following, and I know that’s just why Laurie Lamon told me to hold on to it:

In simple, spare language the poetry in FROM RAIN: Poems 1970-2010 examines the common objects around us as if they were clues to solving some kind of mystery. Ice, glass, stones, moss, and similar inanimate things take on meaning as the poet seeks to answer who and why we are.

Although I haven’t had time to read the collection through, I can contest Guernsey is using objects in this way with his poetry. Below I will include three poems included in this collection, all having something to do with the subject of dogs. I assure you this won’t be the last you hear about him on this blog, as I have found many other favorites of mine.

THE LADY AND THE TRAMP

As my mother’s memory dims
she’s losing her sense of smell
and can’t remember the toast
blackening the kitchen with smoke
or sniff how nasty the breath of the dog
that follows her yet from room to room,
unable, himself, to hear his own bark.

It’s thus they get around,
the wheezing old hound stone deaf
baying like a smoke alarm
for his amnesiac mistress whose back
from petting him is bent forever
as they shuffle toward the flaming toaster
and split the cindered crisp that’s left.

I think this is beautiful. My favorite image is of the woman’s bent back, and how the speaker contributes it to petting her animal and friend. I also love how Guernsey gets away with using the word “nasty” in a poem. This next one points out a truth that is so commonplace, we often overlook it; Guernsey makes it new.

SOMETIMES FOR HOURS

At my feet my dog,
a pastoral scene,

master and beast,
except in his dream

he’s chasing a car,
flinching awake

as the wheels hit–
the way we do

falling through sleep
suddenly saved.

What the mind questions,
the heart believes

and we lie there reasoning,
afraid.

The dog instead
scratches his ear,

nips at a flea
and is soon back twitching.

And the last one is just for fun.

THE SEEING-EYE DOG

sneaks out nights,
cool in beret,

his master’s dark glasses,
sips cointreau

at the dog cafe
and watches;

is the poet of dogs
with a voice that sees

for the man who can’t,
that speaks the meaning

of read, of green;
is the loneliest dog

at the dog cafe
where hounds down suds

and the barking
is loud.

Canning Craze–Rosemary Jelly

Image

I’ve titled this canning craze because in the past couple days it seems all I’ve been doing is making jellies, jams, and marmalade; and I’m not finished yet. I’ve got this week off due to Independence Day, and I’m dedicating it to preserving my favorite parts of summer (fruits and veggies) in small glass jars. I have made jam and done some pickling in the past, but this year is going to be different. My mom picked up a canning and preserving magazine by taste of home a while ago, and as I was thumbing through the various canning recipes, I definitely got excited about preserving my garden’s bounty.

File:Rosmarinus officinalis - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-258.jpg

My first plan of attack was to make rosemary jelly. The magazine’s photo of the jelly was outstanding, of course, so I instantly went out to my garden and snipped off a few sprigs. File:Rosemary with bee landing.jpgThe recipe itself isn’t difficult to execute, especially compared to the rhubarb marmalade I made afterwards. The recipe claims to yield 3 1/2 pints, however I only filled 4 1/2 pint jars. Also, be prepared to do some straining. I used a colander along with a coffee filter; it’s cheap and easy.

Rosemary Jelly

1 1/4 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 ounces liquid fruit pectin
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)

In a large sauce pan, combine boiling water and rosemary; cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. If necessary, add water to measure 1 1/4 cups. Return liquid to pan; add sugar and vinegar. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat and stir constantly. Add pectin (be sure to use liquid pectin), bring to a boil, and stir for 1 minute.

Remove from heat, skim off foam, and add food coloring if desired. Ladle into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

To be honest, I did not know what I would put this jelly on before I made it, but I’ve found a few delicious uses for the green gel. For starters, I spread some laughing cow cheese on a cracker and topped it with the jelly.

Image

I thought it was great! It was sweet, tangy, creamy, and earthy all in the same bite. I think this would work with creme cheese as well, or any other mild, soft cheese. I’ve also heard of people using it on lamb, and other meats. I think I’ll give it a try on my grilled salmon tonight.

How does it sound to you? Do you have any fabulous uses for rosemary jelly?