This is a blog about home canning—or "putting up" as one might say where I'm from—and it will cover jams and other fruit preserves, pickles and briny things, canned vegetables (above all tomatoes) and the complement of condiments that includes relishes, sauces, salsas and those related preparations that result when you chunk bits of seasonal produce and preserve them in a syrup either piquant or sweet.

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Peach Jam, Another Way

Note to all fruit lovers: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has announced that it will host an exhibition of still life paintings by 18th-century Spaniard Luis Melendez, one of great masters of the genre, ABOVE. The show, which originated at the National Gallery in Washington, opens here on September 27.


Before blasting out of town today for a road trip to northern California and Oregon, I needed to put up the Elberta peaches that have been patiently waiting for me since Saturday, when I got them from Bettina at Bee Green Farm.

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Cocktail Onions for Greenvalley Gibsons

Folks who have followed my canning exploits—by which I mean, patient friends who have stoically endured my endless chatter about canning—often ask the same two questions. Or three, if you count their first asking "Have you lost your mind?" I'm not sure I'm most qualified to answer that one, but I can speak to the other two questions that often arise next: What am I going to do with everything I've put up? And how long does it take?

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Best Meal of the Year

Here is a picture of the best meal I've eaten all year: a tomato sandwich followed by half a cantaloupe (var. Ambrosia). Pappaw used to say that there's only two thing that money can't buy, "and that's true, true love and home-grown tomatoes." Well, these here 'maters wasn't grown at my home, but they were grown at James Birch's (Bella Flora Farm) and that's close enough for me.

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Wild Strawberry Jam

I had lunch yesterday with some delightful new friends, Rachel and Beth, who contacted me about the blog. They were curious to know how my whole jamming thing got started.

Well, do you know that mania that descends at the farmer's market when you're standing in front of a massive amount of edible beauty—let's say a table of heirloom tomatoes? It happens to me all the time. I look at the tomatoes and get this particular kind of happiness, the components of which include: joy at seeing something so pretty, gratitude for the extraordinary abundance of nature and panting greed, which is all the more fun because unlike the avarice I suffer when looking at, say, a Maserati Quattroporte or Old Master drawings, I can afford to indulge it. Indeed, the only time I feel really rich—ie, in easy possession of formidable economic power—is at the farmer's market. When I feel happiest is when friends and family are eating the food I've cooked for them. Buying produce puts me right in the middle of those two powerful emotions. Is it any wonder that the farmers' market sometimes makes me loose my mind?

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Oda Al Tomate

La calle
se llenó de tomates,
la luz
se parte
en dos
de tomate,
por las calles
el jugo.
En diciembre
se desata
el tomate,
las cocinas,
entra por los almuerzos,
se sienta
en los aparadores,
entre los vasos,
las matequilleras,
los saleros azules.
luz propia,
majestad benigna.
Devemos, por desgracia,
se hunde
el cuchillo
en su pulpa viviente,
es una roja
un sol
llena las ensaladas
de Chile,
se casa alegremente
con la clara cebolla,
y para celebrarlo
se deja
esencial del olivo,
sobre sus hemisferios entreabiertos,
la pimienta
su fragancia,
la sal su magnetismo:
son las bodas
del día
el perejil
las papas
hierven vigorosamente,
el asado
con su aroma
en la puerta,
es hora!
y sobre
la mesa, en la cintura
del verano,
el tomate,
astro de tierra,
y fecunda,
nos muestra
sus circunvoluciones,
sus canales,
la insigne plenitud
y la abundancia
sin hueso,
sin coraza,
sin escamas ni espinas,
nos entrega
el regalo
de su color fogoso
y la totalidad de su frescura.


Neruda wrote this and the rest of the Odas elementales in his native Chile, which is of course why he refers to December early in the poem—that's the peak of the Southern Hemisphere's summer tomato season. A full translation of the poem is here.


White Cherries in Rasberry Syrup

Mostly this blog is about putting up; sometimes it's also about taking down. As I said in my initial post, the entire purpose of saving the season is to enjoy your efforts later on.

First thing this morning I went to the fridge and found the jam shelf pretty much depleted—just a smear of SMOOTH APRICOT JAM WITH MAPLE AND VANILLA in one jar and a small dab of DAMSON PASTE in another. Both struck me as pretty gutsy stuff for six a.m. on a soft morning. I wanted instead a taste of something delicate and—to openly pronounce the word—pretty.

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Mulberry-Plum Preserve

Persian mulberries are like fruit from a fairy tale: a familiar thing—the dark summer berry—transformed by preposterous imagination into something strange, enchanted and enchanting.

They grow not on brambles but in trees and are so fragile that they can hardly be picked without disintegrating. Their juice is an indelible dye of indescribable color, closest perhaps to the ancient Mediterraneans' Tyrian purple, the color Enobarbus had in mind when describing his queen Cleopatra's conveyance upon the Nile:

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them.
-Antony & Cleopatra (II, ii)

In the mouth, mulberries are contradictory. They are liquid reservoirs and yet, unlike watery and insipid grapes, they have an intensely concentrated flavor. At first the taste seems too sweet—innocent and flamboyant—until, in the blink of an eye, it contracts into a dark inner core and reemerges as something something winelike and poignant. Mulberries are almost too much, but as with the rose window at Chartres, some mysterious proportion—of acid to sugar, earth to perfume, black to red—exalts the excess.

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