Growing What You Can — Canning What You Grow

Canning appealed to me from a young age.  My mother never canned anything as far as I know, and was happy to be spared the job, but my Montana grandmothers did, on both sides of the family.  Chokecherry syrup was their specialty, a bitter sweet concoction made with teeney tiny chokecherries that grow only in the mountains.

Materfamilias. This 4-generation photo was taken in Columbia Falls, Montana on October 15, 1933. Grandma Dorothy White Overturf (b.1903) is holding baby Ed, my father. In the middle is Dororthy's mother, Evelyn Visher White (b.1883). On the right is Evelyn's mother, Julia Sargent Visher (b.1857). They were all women's libbers and canners.

Neither of my twenty-something daughters have set aside time for canning training, I’ve noticed.  The older one is looking for a job and the younger one is torn between two seemingly conflicting life visions, and they both call me regularly for listening and life advice.  This week, the younger called me her “Solutionist”, which sounds like a chemist, which gets me to alchemy, which is what canning is, of course.  Canning is transforming cyclic raw life experience into lasting nourishment.  I look at this library of jars as I talk with my daughters on the phone.

A library of jars...each has its story, size, content, and label. Each is a transmutation of base material into gold.

But first you have to grow the garden, which is like living the life you want to create from.  Gardening and canning both are great metaphors for life, and I use them liberally.  We get advice from neighbors on the road all through the season.  Growing the garden includes creating a community, friends who are facing similar challenges.  And so at this point I would like to thank last week’s commentators — Mark from La Confluencia down in Argentina and Andrzej from Poulsbo, Washington — for their guidance on the hoop house plastic.  UV treated it is!  Mark’s work in Argentina is new to me and inspiring.  Andrzej is an old political activist friend who is also a massage therapist and an organic grower with his wife Christine.  We’ll be covering the smoothed arches with chicken wire, Andrzej, so hopefully the combination won’t be too hard on the plastic.

For readers who don’t live among cedar trees, cedar branches grow downward and then lift into an upward curve.  They look droopy because the leaves, which are spiky like rosemary, hang down from the branches on twigs.  It all makes great building material, as the coastal Indian tribes have shown us.  My husband has made objects d’art from them as well.  This strikes me as a form of canning.

Garfield catapults from cedar arch gate

Cedar circle on tree above compost bin

As we build the hoop house and plan the garden, the rhubarb has come up!  Rhubarb is another bitter plant, like chokecherries, that grows only in the north.  It grows in Montana, too.  My older daughter has stated that she wants rhubarb pie at her wedding instead of cake.  Not that she is engaged or has a boyfriend, but that’s the plan because she loves it so.  We have four rhubarb plants and they produce from April ’til August.  Last year I canned a rhubarb jam series:  strawberry rhubarb in June; marionberry and boysenberry rhubarb, dubbed rhuberry, in July; and peach rhubarb in August.  Rhubarb adds a great tartness to them all.

Rhubarb emerging is so sensual

 Start planning your gardens, everyone.  In a few years, gardening may well return as a critical skill.  Plant what you like to eat.  Plant what grows well and preserves well.  Things will not go perfectly smoothly, you’ll have to adjust.  Maybe get out of your comfort zone and rally others to your cause — this past weekend, I helped preserve the middle class.  Rights are like food, and we preserve what we grow.

You can just see my sign -- it says BALANCE AND EQUALITY.

The other side of my sign. NO STEP BACKWARD is the title of a book by Paula Petrik about women and family on the Rocky Mountain Mining Frontier, Helena, Montana 1865-1900. It was also the motto of Helena High School's Class of 1879, all of whom were women.

Both daughters were happy I went to the rally, however the younger told me not to get shot.  In fact, it was very peaceful, there were more men than women, and there was a good feeling of just seeing each other — we’re usually sitting behind our computers — and expressing our sense of injustice at the backwardness and wrongly-placed responsibility for our country’s fiscal crisis.  It may be a jarring experience, girls, I say as I hang up, but keep the lid on.  The center will hold.

*  *  *

Thanks for all comments last week.  I feel blessed.  And welcome to any Writing It Real subscribers who end up here after reading an article of mine published today on that terrific on-line magazine.  Soon “A Free-Range Writer” will be available at the top of my blog for all y’all.


10 responses to “Growing What You Can — Canning What You Grow

  1. I loved last years Strawberry rhubarb!

  2. I love the Rhuberry AND the Strawberry Rhu…AND what fun it was to read your latest writing! The photo of you and the sign in the newspaper made me chuckle…so impressed.

  3. kathie prater

    Once again, thought-provoking, historical, and humorous. I love your writing…CATapault indeed!! and wasn’t Marion Berry a mayor somewhere? As I recall, he got himself into a jam..I didn’t realize he’d also been canned! Keep it up!

  4. Barbarann Ayars

    A writingitreal addict, I naturally fingered my way to your blog before comenting onyour ebook. Looking at your picures, I see that rhubabrb is certainly sensual. To name it and claim it, it’s downright vaginal, as in looks like a vagina. But that might be the end result of workng Ob/Gyn for thirty years. Gardening cetainly will be a critical skill and not too far intot the future, like maybe next week. We’ll probably disagree on our politics, like Wisconsin….can’t see why I should pump up the living conditions and income of well padded union workers outside the public sector, at the risk of my own meager cache. When someone, for instance, has tenure, what possible else is needed ? All that aside, I love your blog, hysterical balance to the historical, and grieve the already limited future of your daughters and mine. My generation is less secure than my mother’s, my child’s generation will be less secure than mine. Something terribly unAmerican, that. Your are certainly more humorous than the national news. Okay. Back to my task: commenting on your self publishing. You did say: “You can do this”. No. I can’t. Think you’re a computer Fred Flintstone? I’m not even in the cave. But the publishing world, that blinking dinosaur, is right here with me. The 21st Century is going to just pass them by, for all the reasons you cite. Way too many ways now to outsmart their delusional exclusivity. Thanks for pointing one of the ways.

    • Hi Barbarann, I figure you and I agree on more than either of us know.:) The younger of my daughters is currently in nursing school and loves OB/GYN. I’m doing this blog on a lark, it’s all exciting as hell to hear from others in the labyrinth. Thanks for your comment. I love writingitreal, too.

  5. Know your daughter Molly. Love the blog just started canning

  6. Just had some rhuberry yesterday…..yum! I’m passing on the word about your lovely blog……..

  7. Christine Widman

    Must put in a word about the peach rhubarb jam which the guests at our B&B piled onto their bran muffins – a terrific combination of favors with the taste and texture of the bran.
    A comment to Barbarann – I think it’s possible that no generation is secure.
    30’s – the Depression 40’s – WWII 50’s – McCarthy Communism WitchHunt
    60’s – Vietnam – you get the picture.
    Based on our 8 years of experience as B&B owners there is a world of amazing people out there – the effect of their kindness is rippling out.
    Like the Farmlette – work & nourishment.
    Love your language, your insights, your humor, Christi.

  8. Christine Widman

    February 2013 was a busy beyond words month here at the B&B.
    So I am now taking my restorative beginning of each new month reading of your old blog entries for the present month. Aah.
    Very connecting as just yesterday I served your blackberry-rhubard jam to our guests. It’s the first thing they reached for on the table!
    Struck once again at the beauty of Garfield’s sunlight leaping from the cedar branch.
    Also about Molly and wedding plans. Joy. Isn’t time and what passes in between amazing?!

    • I can feel that time has passed, but Garfield leapt off that cedar arch in exactly that same way today. And Molly is engaged to a man she had no idea existed two years ago. And I’m to make 220 jars of jam for their wedding on August 24! What does it all mean??? Two years has passed, some things have changed, but not Garfield. Love you!

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