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Down the back road: The art of canning

The old-fashioned art of canning, I am happy to report, is making a comeback.

Recently NPR did a piece on the resurgence of home canning, especially among the younger generation. The interview included an 85-year-old named Pat Summer (great name for a canner) who started canning during the Depression when she was 11 years old. Summer was surprised and pleased when asked to teach a group of young women how to can.

“I told them I would do it, but I didn’t know much about technology,” she said. “The only blackberries I know about go into jam.”

Apparently that was enough for Summer and her students who spent the summer jammin’ to the tune of steaming pots and “ping” of jar lids sealing into place. What is it about this old-fashioned pursuit that seems to appeal to a new generation? Food free of chemicals and additives is certainly a motivation.

Natural foods are in, as the popularity of “whole food” stores can attest. What these specialty grocery stores can’t top is the taste and price of “whole food” canned at home.

True, home canning is more work. Preceding each canning session there are hours of picking, peeling, and pitting. Then there are jars to wash and lids and rings to find. And what is the fruit of all that labor — seven quarts of canned goods, at best.

Still, it is a part of summer I wouldn’t want to miss.

My personal canning routine begins the night before with the gathering of jars from attic or barn. I wash the jars in a sink full of soapy water and leave them to dry, bottom side up, on a clean dishtowel overnight.

Bright and early the next morning canning commences. While I search for jar lids and rings, the cats gather around to watch. A ceiling fan (reminiscent of my grandmother’s ancient rotary fan) stirs the air and sets the tempo for the work at hand.

As I start to sort fruit, a little round peach rolls off the counter and onto the floor. In a flash, Lily, the youngster of the cat family, races around the counter to investigate. With an energetic leap the little cat attacks the wild peach that quickly succumbs into a puddle of peach pulp.

While I seem to remember that cats don’t laugh (one thinks of all sorts of odd facts while performing mindless kitchen chores), Sophie and Luna seem to be snickering at the little cat splattered with peach juice.

Lily is peachy, but not so keen, so I take a break to wipe down counter and cat before resuming my peach peeling.

Peeled and mashed, the peaches go into a canning pot to bubble happily on the stove. Soon there are rows of jam sparkling on the kitchen counter.

I tend to sparkle myself when I look at them.

By suppertime the jars are cool. Carefully I arrange the day’s work on the pantry shelf and step outside to finish the chores. I pause to admire the moon as it climbs above the treetops. I can’t help but notice the color — peachy gold!

As I walk toward the barn a playful breeze skips up the hill and ruffles the treetops.

Roused from their evening slumber, a row of aging oaks along the fencerow bow and flirt in the shadows. Peeking over a passing cloud, a handful of stars wink back.

I pause to enjoy this perfect summer moment, the “Peaceable Kingdom” by night.

It is good to know that I — in a very small way — have done my part to preserve it. Before summer’s end my pantry shelf will hold an endless supply of summer days and moonlit nights.

The art of canning is indeed a skill worth sharing.