Is the exciting bounty of the season slipping into a dull pounding of obligation? Perhaps your calves and your neck are tired from days of standing at a cutting board, a dehydrator, a canning kettle.
Are you are starting to give the side-eye to the zucchini and the cucumbers? What insanity possessed you to plant 8 hills of zucchini for a family of four, anyway? And why did your kid pick this week to declare they hated pickles?
Perhaps you are questioning this whole, damned endeavor. Maybe you’re starting to remember how your grandma never actually ever sat down from July through October. Is the gingham-marketed joy of the grow-your-own, preserve-your-own, cook-your-own life starting to look a bit more like a self-made hell, than the modern road to freedom?
Look, my friend, I’ve been there. You’re trying to keep the garden alive and productive through the heat, and keep the canning kettle rolling despite it. You’re trying to transplant out the fall crops as you bring the summer harvest in.
As a matter of principle you can’t stand to see a single raspberry or cherry tomato go to waste. And in the middle of this, something cultural nags at you that you should just try to relax, ok? ‘Cause it’s summer!
They didn’t tell you, when you signed up for this, when you first read Radical Homemaker, that this part would be such a grind.
In the words of Harriet Fasenfest, you are both the farmer and the farmer’s wife now. When the sheer thrill of that DIY jam lets go, you’re left with a simple truth: what you started with passion has become obligation.
It happens. Every year, it happens. This is the crush of the harvest.
This feeling that stalks up on you, that you might be living on the razor’s edge of food chaos – this is totally normal. Stacks of produce on the counters, multiple dehydrators spread across a few rooms, a mad dash out to get more mason jar lids or distilled vinegar – all normal.
Here’s the bad news, my friend: you’re not done yet. We need to get through these peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, peppers, corn, blackberries, beans, cucumbers, zucchini and figs.
Here’s the good news: this brief, overwhelming bounty is fleeting. As much as it feels right now like it may never end, the end is terribly close. I can see it, just over the border in September. Just a couple more weeks.
Once we get through the highly perishable produce of late summer and early fall, we will breathe again. We won’t be done, but the din will be. More slowly, we will dry prune plums, tuck winter pears into boxes, sauce apples, cure winter squash, ferment cabbage. These things will keep. They will wait for some lazy, cool fall day when a little food preservation project feels like a charming vacation after the crunch you’re feeling now.
Sometime around mid-October, your feet will have recovered. You’ll throw open your cupboard and row after row of home-canned food will greet you.
Blackberry syrup from gleaned berries will top whole wheat waffles. Your kids will snack on fruit you dried. Relish you made will top burgers, salsa you canned will be dolloped onto black beans. You’ll wonder what’s for dinner and find an easy solution in your pantry.
You will – and I’m quite sure of this – break into a smile at the sight of the larder you stocked for your family. You won’t exactly forget what it took to get that food into those jars, but the pain will shift, change into something like pride, as you use the long-term value you’ve created.
When that happens, you’re screwed. At that moment, there’s no turning back. Your Natal Chart is cast – more canned tomatoes, more dried peaches, more jars of pesto – this is your ordained future.
You might even start jotting down reminders for next year:
“October – already out of raspberry jam.”
“Note – crushed tomatoes just as good as whole peeled.”
“Pickled carrots a hit with kids! Ferment more in 2016!”
“Dry more peaches! Dry more pears! Perfect school lunch snack!”
After a few years of this annual roller-coaster, you will find your stride. It’s not that the huge push of late summer preservation gets easy, exactly, but you begin to appreciate how incredible it is that a few weeks of extra effort once a year sets you up for a year of homemade deliciousness. There may even come a point when you begin to look forward to the rise and fall of the food preservation calendar.
I know I do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, these tomatoes aren’t drying themselves.3
OMG, thank you. Just yesterday, I was canning tomatoes when it’s almost 90 degrees out, the kitchen is hotter than Hades, and I’m thinking “I HATE AUGUST.” I hate August?! Who am I?! But, I kind of hate August.
But the home-preserved stuff we’ll be eating all winter? That, I love. Thanks for reminding us all about that part of it. It’ll give me strength to deal with the peaches today. 🙂
I really needed this reminder. I found myself yesterday, as I waded through row after row of tomato plants, chastising myself for mentally bitching that it was hot, the tomatoes were overgrown, the weeds were threatening to take over, the basket of tomatoes were heavy, I was tired…and stopped myself to think, “Damn, girl, you’ve grown your own food!”
Yes, it’s hot, and it’s sometimes overwhelming, and yes, my evenings are consumed between picking the stuff I’m growing, and preserving the stuff I’m growing, but come fall and winter, my pantry will be ready with a full bounty.
I just have to get through the next few weeks…
Another great post. 🙂 How did you find time to write in AUGUST?!
Yes, I’m decidedly hooked on having a hippie larder and freezer. Full of the best-tasting food anywhere once we get the next big winter freeze. Come what may – we will have jars of pickles, jam, peaches, tomatoes. and other delightful treats ready to go. Frozen grated zucchini for winter bread. Nothing will go to waste. And when the snow falls, my winter veggies will still be out in the garden doing their thing. Can’t wait – but also not wishing away a moment of summer.
Thanks Erica, I feel like you always know just what to say to make us all feel better, right when we need it 🙂
Lynn D. says
I don’t can, but I freeze, pickle and dry some of the food I grow and some more that I buy. I still feel overwhelmed and long for winter days when I can just open a bag of frozen peas and call it a green vegetable. But I also appreciate opening up a bag of cooked greens I’ve frozen, or using pesto and tomato sauce.
I am feeling better than last year, both because I’m putting up far more veggies (bigger garden and a misguided CSA share purchase) and because I told myself it was okay to hate canning. Drying requires the same tedious cutting and prep but not the slaving over hot stove.
I’ll like it even better when we get a second deep freeze and I have enough space to freeze things on the days I need to preserve things but I’m too lazy (or busy) to prep for drying.
all of these things are true. I don’t do anything like your scale, but even I think I’ll never get (my limited list) done.
On a side note, I made a batch of Food In Jar’s Roasted Corn Salsa last weekend (OMG YUM), and when I took my jars out of the canner, I noticed that the liquid level is now below some of the salsa. Is it ok to store and eat later? The seals seem ok
You remind me of one of my Facebook posts from last year: “This getting free food thing stops being fun and starts being work somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds of plums.” This year I discovered that number is more like 10 pounds of plums when the ones you can score for free are tiny, but too big to run through a cherry pitter. Still, I appreciate the heck out of them all winter long in my smoothies and in jam, and I appreciate the savings in my bank account even more. Plus, what else was I going to do with my evenings? Watch TV? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to figure out what to do with the 3 billy club zucchini and 4 cukes bigger than my forearm that I was just gifted by the plum lady. And cut up 20 more pounds of plums. Ugh.
Thank you for this post and putting into words what so many of us are feeling right now. Last night DH just about got smacked when he very sincerely offered to get the plums off the tree for me today. And this was when I was on a much-needed break from canning all day. I’ve made hardly a dent in our one apple tree (a Chehalis–don’t plant this one! Good for just fresh eating or applesauce!) and mostly the windfalls at that. Four dehydrators running, canning apple juice concentrate from running the steam juicer a full day before that… I climbed up in the tree and got another 3 bushels of apples today. If only we didn’t live square in the middle of apple maggot territory…I’d sent the little blighters packing!
Aha! Perhaps with your gingham madness you read gogingham.com ?
No worries. Your blog is better (& I’m a fan of hers! [and yours])
I’m a bonafide non-urban. But use urban guiles to make do. This I have learned!
I spent my whole life working hard in the fields by day and then canning like mad at night so we could eat thru the winter…
And then nextdoor neighbors (OK, a mile away), townies that had moved to the country, demanded I babysit so they could go out in the eve? Did they just not understand my day? Why couldn’t their daughter (the same age) take care of things for them? I ask you now, only because not allowed to ask back then… As a noted responsible one who had not yet learned to say no, I was the baby-sitter of choice for miles around — does it not surprise you, now no children of my own? I”m envious of you! But laugh and understand your consternation when they’ve suddenly decided they do not like pickles — this still happens to me today — but with older peops one must live closely with… LOL!
Despite this comment left, I’m still a mild mannered sort, but sometimes being responsible is too much of a good thing. And it does not gain you anything, not even in the respect category. I’m older than you; I’ve right to vent.
I hate dealing with garden glut, but free food and caring for your own = good. Going the extra mile? Sometimes not. One does pay in unexpected ways in the end.
But you’re a good judge. And I wish I were you.
Stove timer beeping at me. Must log off.
Keep on keeping on, you!
yep. all of this. exactly!
Whimper. I am re-reading this and the comments as a buck-up activity while bracing for a day of canning. How do I forget how freaking hard this is every year? It’s so difficult to balance the fun/accomplishment part with the overwhelmed feeling, especially this year when we have other competing projects going on. (Today there is drywall dust over the whole kitchen….sigh.)
I was hanging up onions to dry yesterday, thinking on the one hand how amazing one tiny seed grew into this beautiful, heavy, pungent object. On the other I was thinking how easy it would be to buy a bag of onions? Sometimes the scale of home-grower is just enough to make a ton of work, but not enough volume to utilize tools/equipment that make it easier, you know? I can 7-8 jars at a time, which is all the prep/cleanup, with many more repeated batches. If I had twice as many onions, I’d invest in racks or special bins to store them, as it is I string them up and it takes forever.
Thanks for the reminder that I *will* look back and appreciate this later. I think. 🙂
‘When that happens, you’re screwed.’
I remember the first time I had that moment. It wasn’t my first year of canning but it was the year that my boyfriend and I starting canning in earnest and kind of on accident. That October we were running out of conventional places to store all the delicious food.
Each time there was a budget crunch or a ‘I’m really in the mood for x,y, or z’ and the preserves came to the rescue I knew this would become a major part of my life. The sound a jar makes when you crack the seal still gives me a little jolt of joy no matter what mood I am in.
Thank you for the wonderful article.
Ha, Thank you,
I was out in my bathrobe picking up every(!) fallen crabapple
A.J. Coltrane - Cheap Seat Eats says
This time of the year the garden does sometimes seem like the Big Lurking Thing that demands time and energy.
Fortunately the pace will slow soon.
My harvest is pretty small, as things go. No giant forest of winter sqush (or summer squash), alas. Hopefully I’ll do better (or at all) on that front next year. But this Saturday is the day when my firend and I hang out in my kitchen and can All The Tomatoes. (Meaning the 60lbs we’re buying on Saturday morning).
I’m currently trying to rejig my usual tomato recipes so that they can all be based on the kind of Very Easy Crushed Tomatoes that don’t require any blanching or pealing, just cutting out the cores and putting them through a food processor before cooking them down to thicken them up a little bit.
I’ve been canning apple butter and nectarine jam (YAY!) and will be picking another heap of choke-cherries tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have the bulk of my annual canning (minus the pumpkin butter and cranberry curd that will happen closer to October) done by this time next week. 🙂 There will still be regular bouts of freezing chard and kale – because those are doing gorgeously! – but the stuff that requires a canning bath will be largely out of theway.
Fingers crossed that the cool weather will hold until next Wednesday. 😉
Lynn D. says
And not only do you have to put up all that produce, but OMG! I’ve got to put in the winter garden. I just planted arugula, snow peas, cilantro, beets, escarole and Swiss chard. It’s way too late, unless we have a long warm Fall. But as my husband points out, it’ll do better than if I didn’t plant it at all.
I met Harriet at the Portland Preservation Society meeting earlier this month! She brought some dried fruit and copies of her DVD “Preserving with Friends” I’ve been watching it (in bits and pieces) and it’s fun. She has taught me that you don’t actually have to have the lids in a pan of boiling water, just in hot enough water to soften the seal.
The last time I made jam, I was in a restaurant grade kitchen, so I could use the Hobart to sanitize the jars (and wash the pots after). (Preserving is so much easier in a big kitchen!) Anyway, I just held the lids in boiling water while I was filling the jar, and that worked great.