Tonight we had 100 percent success on our canned pickled beets. Every one of the jars sealed. It was a hot afternoon as we prepared peach and cherry jam, lemon thyme pickles, cucumber chutney and pickled beets. And drank champagne.
We have not put food up together. My spouse grew up on a household that ate mostly grocery store food even though his parents, particularly his mom, had grown garden food and even relied on crabbing and other ocean food gathering when times were really lean during the Great Depression and when they were newly married. My household put up almost everything we ate.
Since it was how I knew to keep house, the first year we were together I planted a garden for a family of five when there were only two of us. It came in with a vengeance and I did not know what to do to manage all of the food. As it turned out just as things were getting truly out of control, we moved from that house in Florida to Pocatello, Idaho where we inherited a small but thriving garden and even a small green house garden. We were on a tight budget and ate most everything out of the garden. There was not much to set by for what turned out to be a very learn winter.
As the years passed there was more money than time so growing and storing our own food was over taken by work and looking after the family.
Now that we are retired and on tighter dollar and looser time budgets I decided we should put up some of our own food. This year I planned to have a garden but spent the summer growing a house instead of growing food. The house is coming together and we live in a valley full of gorgeous farm-to-market food so we decided buy food from the local farms this year.
Our maiden canning voyage was blueberry jam. I felt confident having grown up putting food by every summer for every winter. I secretly read canning books and tried to memorize the steps so I would look convincing in the kitchen. It is easy to be confident and hard to be wrong when you are being watched by a dog. Fascinated by the fact that cooking is going on, our dog lies carefully just out of the kitchen on a rug known as “cook.” Cook means you get food. Bells go off, chimes ring, pots boil, food gets moved from one place to anther and she still does not get any. As the afternoon graduated into the evening her head started to drop as her eyes drooped and she drifted off to sleep dreaming, no doubt, about jerky and canned chicken rather than pickles and beets.
When we were planning to take on the canning, I read up on all the new natural and organic options for putting food by. I ordered the Ball canning book which has grown from a pamphlet when I was a youth to a full scale 2 inch thick book with color plates. Even in its new clothes it was reassuringly familiar. After considering the one cup fruit one cup sugar type of jam, we decided to try the new citrus pectin that does not require sugar to set. I was skeptical but we tried it and it set. Very well. We have something along the lines of blueberry jam-ello. It takes a lot less pectin than we thought it did. Need to follow that recipe closer next time. We only got one jar to seal out of that batch but we felt victorious.
Fresh beets are kind of hard to deal with. Everything they go by turns beet read if you are not careful. Our beets went swimmingly all day. I dragged 10 pounds of fresh, beautiful beets grown about 25 miles down the valley from us. Competence descended like a dove from the heavens. I made it though the whole affair without turning the counter, the floor, the dishtowels and me beet red. I did a lot better with beets than I did with paint. Got that all over me.
Beets settled into the canner for their altitude-adjusted water bath, we went to the next round of foods. While my spouse pitted 2 pounds of cherries and peeled and paired 10 pounds of peaches, I set about slicing 10 pounds of cucumbers. Last year when we moved here we bought a few pickling cucumbers from the farmers market because they looked cool. In our ski condo rental house we made batch after batch of all sorts of exotic refrigerator pickles. I made up catchy names for the batches and we joked we could go into the pickle making business. Today, faced with 10 pounds of cucumbers to make real pickles my mind went blank.
I decided no matter, we would make up some other new cool recipe. The batch I am working on now (two day pickles) is lemon thyme with kaffir lime leaves and juniper berries. I said, “If things don’t go well we can use the juniper berries to make gin pickles.”
My spouse laughed, good naturally up to his elbows in over ripe peaches and pitted cherries, said, “We should have kirsch (cherry brandy) and peach brandy too.” I thought he was serious and launched into how to make brandied peaches. He laughed at me the way only someone who has known you for a very long time can do. The dog opened her eyes and looked quizzically as if to ask, “You sound happy, does that mean dinner is ready? That would make me happy.”
Laughter was useful today. The day started with the dishwasher repair person leaning indulgently over my cooking beets to peer into the bowels of the cabinets to get oriented to how tightly our broken microwave and recalled-hinges dishwasher door were packed in with the cabinets. When he left, the microwave and the dishwasher were in tip top health. The plumbing, however, was not although none of us knew it. As my second batch of beets were humming along an alarm went off. Not a loud one but an attention grabbing one. We looked at each other not knowing what it might mean since we don’t yet know this house’s cries for help. As we were just starting to go into motion, the phone rang and the phone’s electronic caller ID lady said “Cert” was was calling. We had never answered that phone since it is really the internet connection so we were not sure what she even said. Of course, it was the “Central” alarm notification center calling to tell us that the water sensor alarm had registered a fault. Indeed, we had water. We had a lot of water. We had a lot of water where it did not belong. It was coming from the dishwasher.
Pushing aside canning jars I slid under the sink. One of the benefits and curses of helping build this house is that I am supposed to know what is going on and how to fix it. Of course, my pride is involved so I have to at least look like I know what is going on. If I don’t, I slide out of whatever crevice I have been investigating and sadly shake my head and say something like, “Well, I guess we are going to have to get some help on this one. It looks pretty bad. Maybe it is the way they [wired, plumbed, framed, etc.] it. I don’t know enough to dig around….”
Today, I got lucky. I crawled in the cabinet noting its capacious size compared to our now-dead house that died in the wildfire. This new house has a 36″ sink base and the one in the old house that burned was a 30″ sinkbase. As I pulled stuff out of our new cabinet and tried to mop water and find the water sensor in the pond that was our cabinet, I saw that the drain hose for the dishwasher had come dislodged when the repair person had pulled it out to replace the recalled door hinges that made the door slam shut like a snapping turtle. When we installed the dishwasher we wedged it in so tightly between the the too-snug cabinets, if you did not know, you would never have realized there was a hose there. I had been under that cabinet before so I knew. I stuffed the hose back in the drain, wiped up the mess and went back to the beets.
The alarm went off again. And again, and again. After several hours, the people at the local company, not the national call center, got on the phone with me. After a lot of running from the formerly wet cabinet upstairs to one alarm box then downstairs to formerly wet cabinet, then downstairs to the other alarm box and back we determined that our alarm code did not work. Who knew, we have only lived in the house 5 weeks and have not yet turned the alarm on. We are just learning to lock the doors. I did think about setting the alarm couple of times but I was not sure if our code worked. It did not, in fact. We got the alarm turned off and the code will be reset tomorrow so tonight is the night to break into our house, there are fresh pickled beets to steal. Tomorrow will be too late, that is, if I remember to set the alarm.
All of this put us in the mind of champagne. After two years of living in one temporary housing situation after another drifting across two states as we “recovered” from the wildfire that burned our home to the ground, we have a house where we can see enough of the future to put food by for it. That, certainly, between alarm calls, is worth celebrating.