A soft metallic pop fills the air of the kitchen every few minutes. It is a gentle sound against the roar of the fan above the stove and it is calming. It is the sound of a job accomplished. It is also the sound of unnecessary work.
We have reached high summer here in New York, which for us means that our farm share is now burying us in high summer produce. Usually it is zucchinis, but there was a lot of rain in the beginning of the year, so we didn’t have our usual week of ten zucchinis to disperse with. Instead, the cucumbers are making up for it.
I realized, a few years into our farm share, that I was never going to be able to keep up with the amount of produce that we receive. My household is filled with precisely one enthusiastic vegetable eater and there’s only so much salad I can eat in a month. I bought a pressure cooker with the idea of turning some of the produce into something we could continue to eat during the winter. There’s a whole world of canning out there that I began to discover. I cannot yet say that I am a very confident canner, but each project teaches me a little bit more.
For the Preserve The Cukes! project, I tried my hand at water bath canning. They apparently sell separate water bath canners, but if you have a pressure cooker, you already have everything you need The point of water bath canning is to boil your closed jars until the lid seals, which keeps air and germs and mold from getting in. (One wonders what a water bath canner is exactly, besides a large pot.) Most of the vegetable kingdom can be canned this way, though not everything, but I hadn’t tried it before. It was about a zillion times easier than pressure canning.
Pickling was a simple process. I ended up using a premade mix of pickling spice, and adding water and white vinegar as per the instructions. This was because I sent my Beloved to the store with the canning supplies with a list and he called me in a mild outrage that I wanted to spend $15 on pickling supplies when the grocery store already sells perfectly good pickles.
I pointed out that he frequently buys $10 steaks for his dinner. We struck a compromise and he bought the $3 pickle spice mix and some vinegar.
Now we have turned $5 and our farm share produce into $30 worth of pickles that we can eat all year round. If I’d had more cucumbers, I could easily have made double the quantity, turning my $5 investment into $60 of pickles.
What a deal.
But he brings up a valid point if it were really about the money. After all, the five grocery stores within a mile of my house all carry perfectly good pickles for a reasonable price. We are not in danger of any pickle shortages. This is about learning how to get closer to my food and about not throwing out perfectly good produce just because I can’t eat it fast enough to keep it from rotting. It’s about reconnecting with a historic task, because that gives my life some authenticity. Sure, I can go to the store and buy a jar of pickles, but pickling has taught me how to preserve food. I’m learning practical skills.
And when the zombie apocalypse comes, you’ll be glad to know me.
As a spinner and a knitter, I can’t help but reflect on these values and these choices. On one hand, it often feels disrespectful to turn towards these hobbies when I live in a world in which it is so easy to go and buy a finished product that is close to what I am making. (Mass-produced and hand-produced just have different qualities, but let’s ignore that for now.) Not all of the world has that luxury. And the fact that it is completely optional for me makes me think a lot about justifying it. Is it selfish to spend so much of my time “playing” at skills that are absolutely vital for survival elsewhere? Or does it honor the tradition?
I am not sure. But whenever I go to open my jars of weirdly shaped pickles, I know that I will have a pride that can only be earned through achievement. I will think to myself, “I did this and it was worthwhile.” And maybe that’s enough.