Basking in the virtue of boiling-water baths

The smugness attack hit a few weeks back, while my wife was visiting an out-of-town friend.

Perhaps it was boredom or the way the pre-autumn sun slanted down on a Saturday morning. Perhaps it had spotted a binful of perfect pickling cukes, cheek-by-jowl with lacy fronds of fresh dill the previous evening.

Whatever factors were at play, my inner nag insisted: “Put down that book. Forget the breakfast dishes. Get canning jars: stat.”

Two hours later, the MasterCard was smoking and every inch of counter space bloomed with Mason jars, jeroboams of vinegar, and a cornucopia of produce. I was set to pickle the world.

I started slowly, with pints and half-pints of pickled onions, visions of icy Gibsons dancing in my head. Then on to kosher-style dills, with garlic enough to repel the vampires of this or any future century.

Next came ruby-red beets, each jar glistening like a stained-glass window. Then on to dilled carrots, asparagus, et cetera. My OCD was on a roll.

By Sunday afternoon, the dining-room table groaned with preserves, plus an oversized apple pie and a lovingly-latticed blueberry pie just for fun.

When Herself returned, bearing a hefty bag of green and yellow beans, I shrugged nonchalantly. “No problem. I’ll pickle those in no time. Celery seed, or just mustard seed and dill?”

After standing back to admire my output, I took some photos to display my virtue to the Facebook world.

Did I say smug?

That’s when it hit me. My feat was nothing compared to what mom did every autumn. With a family of seven, she would “put down” at least ten times what I had just done.

She also canned shelves-full of syrupy pears, peaches, plums, cherries and other fruits to see us through winter. Not to mention countless jars of assorted jams and jellies.

Not only that, but most of what she canned she had grown herself, with minimal weeding assistance from her five reluctant offspring.

I suddenly felt less smug. How could I match the work ethic of someone who survived the Dirty Thirties on a preacher’s skimpy income?

But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. The rosehips and crabapples are almost at perfection, and I have two dozen half-pint jars to fill with jelly for Christmas gifts.

Incidentally, how many medium-sized pickled eggs do you think will fit into those last three quart-sized Mason jars?

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