Capturing Sunshine in a Jar

Home-canned peachesAh, Summer – we hardly knew ye!

It’s raining all day today and the temps are hovering in the 50s, a cold, wet reminder that it is already September and that the summer is waning quietly with the close of the day (and also quite noisily in the mornings with the gathering of geese in giant Vs across the sky).

Those geese have always been so symbolic to me – they carry a sense of urgency – a time to buckle things down around the yard and garden and bundle children up for school.

And along with this rainy day, the garbled honking of gaggles of geese, and the wondering of whether I will ever get any tomatoes, corn, or pumpkins this year, is the sharp realization that it just might be my last chance to capture some of this elusive summer sunshine in a jar.

Time to can those peaches!

I can remember spending many afternoons in the heat of summer sweating over a stove, peeling peaches and pears.  Companionship and a sense of accomplishment made it fun. Although I am at a different time and place now, I still love their bright colors in the jars as I stack them on the shelves. This sweetness will be such an exotic treat in the middle of a dreary winter day.

Canning fruit: a relatively simple process with a foundation method and a zillion variations, all involving slicing and layering the fruit into jars, adding a liquid or syrup of some sort, releasing the air bubbles, wiping off the rims, placing the lids, tightening the bands, and lowering them into the water bath. I don’t do nearly the canning I used to do, and not nearly what my grandmother and grandparents before her did, but I feel that same sense of pride in preserving our own food for the long winter ahead.

My mother and grandmothers are long gone, so I find myself referring to my tried-and-true reference book, “Putting Food By” by Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan, and Janet Greene, published in 1973 – and I am sure I have had it almost that long. It has long lost its covers and looks pretty ragged at this point. Nowadays, though, there is so much information on the web, to the point of being overwhelming. Here is a fun site I came across this morning, packed full of information and answers to questions, including info on where to find local farms, what’s in season, and a lot of etc.:

Save money, eat healthier, control the ingredients, be more self-sufficient – all good reasons to can your own food. I may not grow my own peaches where I live, but I do have access to those grown by family farms not too far away. I can support those growers and know that I have locked in a freshness that simply doesn’t exist in the produce stacked in the stores that has been shipped from Argentina or Chile in winter.

Can your own. It’s a good thing. It is a connection to past generations who understood the importance of self-reliance to survival. Teach your children. If these skills are lost, we are even more dependent on outside distributors for our very food supply. Scary thought.

It is such a busy time of year (but then, what time isn’t?) – but making time to put aside some of the summer bounty has such huge rewards. And like our grandparents, come some blustery day in the midst of winter, we can gather with family and friends, crack open a jar of those peaches, sit back, and close our eyes at the sweet taste of summer. Mmmm-hmmmm. A little sunshine in a jar.

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