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.
Why bother canning? So that you can eat your efforts later, of course, and give them to other people to eat. I do it to save the season.
Putting up used to be how plenty prepared for want. Foodstuffs were processed in a season of abundance—when the wild blackberries came in, when hogs were slaughtered at the first cold snap—and taken out to eat in some later time of scarcity. Today we don’t suffer the annual hunger known for most of human history, since the grocery store is always stocked with an unvarying selection of vegetables, fruits and meats, some of which are absurdly imported in from the ends of the earth. The grocery store makes it possible to eat unnatural meals such as asparagus on New Year’s Eve, pretentious faux gourmandise that's flagrantly self-indulgent at best—the asparagus has been flown in from Chile—and arguably immoral since it flaunts everything we’ve come to know about human impact on the environment.
Not that long ago, it was agricultural rhythms—nature—that determined what was on the table, and lusty eaters had to anticipate the harvest of each month, when gardens, orchards, fields, woods, rivers, oceans and skies delivered a copious annual bounty of a particular thing at a particular time. We’ve forgotten to wait for seasonal delicacies, and as a punishment the grocery store has become a year-round warehouse of indifferent fruit and vegetable staples.
Just a generation ago—that is to say, when I was little—strawberries were a cause for celebration in the spring. My mother and I made annual trips to a pick-your-own farm, where we were always amazed by how good they were and by how quickly we could pick more than we could eat. In August we visited my West grandparents, Gran and Pappaw, and when we returned to South Carolina from their farm in Blount County, Tennessee, my mother’s baby-blue VW Bug would be loaded literally to the roof with bags of corn ears, buckets of okra and squash, multiple watermelons and flats of Pappaw’s home-grown tomatoes.
“There’s only two things that money can’t buy,” he’d say. “That’s true, true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
When Gran canned them, Pappaw's tomatoes were as good in January as they had been fresh. That's what I mean by saving the season.