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Jessie Veeder, Published September 07 2013

Coming Home: Canning time just means more questions

It’s canning season. You probably know this. You probably have a garden that’s producing buckets full of tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and corn. You’re likely scratching your head wondering what to do with it all.

Salsa, soup, frozen, dried, blanched, juiced, jellied, syruped, pickled. You name it, and it’s being done.

If you’re lucky – or unlucky, depending on your feelings toward vegetables – you might wake up to find a mysterious bag of zucchini sitting on your doorstep.

Or maybe you’re out of ideas and you’re the one toting that zucchini, working up a speech to convince your friends that you can make anything out of this wonder-veggie – bread, pasta, cake, pizza, chocolate syrup, a burger that tastes better than beef. You’re busy promising it’s the truth, pleading with your neighbors to give it a try.

I’ve never understood zucchini, so I won’t be convinced. Don’t come knocking on my door with that stuff.

Because it’s harvest. Time to bake, cook, chop, measure and stir the fruits of our labor into delicacies that bring back memories of our grandmothers or a farmhouse or a garden somewhere.

It’s harvest, and I’m no Martha Stewart. No. Shredding 10 pounds of zucchini in order to magically and mysteriously turn a weird looking vegetable into a muffin is not a talent I inherited.

But I’m not completely worthless when it comes to preserving the harvest. No. I can’t be because I’m my only hope for wild plum jelly on peanut butter toast.

It’s unfortunate, really, for me and my family, that the promise of concocting anything remotely edible from the five gallons of wild plums we picked from thorny branches rests solely in my clumsy hands.

I guess that’s why they invented Google.

I’ve talked about this before. It’s the same every year since I’ve moved home. Pops shows up at my door and nonchalantly delivers a box of canning jars, saying something like, “We had these in the garage from last year. Just thought I’d bring them over, you know, in case you needed them.”

Then he says something about the weather and the chokecherry crop he ran across on his ride out east, and two days later, we stumble into a beautiful bush bending at the branches with wild plums, and suddenly I have urgent weekend plans.

So I dig out old recipes and Google words like “hot water bath,” “pressure cooker” and “pectin” because once a year is not enough practice for me to remember that I need to buy something like 47 pounds of sugar before I begin to cut and pit 7,000 plums.

Wait. Am I supposed to cut and pit the plums?

Do I put the pectin in before the sugar?

How long do I need to stir this?

One day, I’ll be an old woman who knows things about juicing, boiling, timing and sealing. It’s my own quiet goal. To have long gray hair and steady hands to work confidently in the kitchen.

One day, you’ll find me there, making juice, jam and jelly, sure in my sugar measurements and where I put the darn ladle that keeps wandering away.

But apparently this year is not my year.

Because the old woman version of me would have warned me not to start a project like this at 9 p.m. after a couple hard drinks and a husband who’s late in bringing home that strainer you asked him to pick up in town.

She would have told me the pectin goes in before the sugar.

She would have told me to calm down, that it wasn’t my husband’s fault I can’t read directions.

I would have appreciated it more coming from her than from him.

The old woman version of me would not worry over syrup that was supposed to be jelly, because her jelly always sets.

And if it doesn’t, she will have meant it that way.

So give me a few years, Martha. Give me an apron, some wild plums, Pops’ leftover jars, a recipe tried and true and a reliable Internet search engine and I’ll give you a run for your money.

Just don’t ever bring me zucchini.


Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.