Canning, wasps, boiling-water-bath
20190800106f, Homesteading, nearly finished! 6 minutes.

It was time to cope with nature’s summer bounty.

Time to scrub the rest of the big pots, go out to the barn, (actually a big commercial-type tent) and find the jars, give them a first wash in the sink, then put them through the dishwasher, boil them for half an hour in the boiling-water-bath, to sterilize them, and sharpen the knives. It was time for preserving everything in sight, and some that wasn’t: time for canning, freezing, and maybe drying.

Usually I buy and process the fruit when it’s a week past the peak locally, that is when it’s cheapest: first, strawberries, then blueberries, peaches, plums and pears, and by then it’s October and apple time. I go to the orchards a week after they close. One does have to look a little harder for the fruit but there’s plenty left for me, and the price is lower, but it does have to be done immediately. Alternately, I buy seconds when the fruit is at its peak. They are about half price, but also have to be processed straight away. They don’t keep like first quality fruit.

What followed was six weeks of very hard work. Most of the time I was utterly exhausted. Jars had to be replenished as tray after tray was filled. Between washing, cutting, and cooking the soft fruit, washing and sterilizing the jars in a big pot of boiling water, filling them with the boiling fruit, or the ratatouille sauce cooked at Hilary’s, sterilizing them again for 20 minutes after the water returned to the boil, it became quite a production line.

Each batch took at least one or two days, during which time I was completely myopic and could think of nothing else. Canning took precedence over almost everything, apart from sleep, an occasional meal, and, of course, the dogs. I didn’t want to have all the produce go bad, after having had to go to the various farms to get it.

Trying to prepare the plums outside – the total ended up at four bushels – was another interesting experience. The wasps decided this was buffet heaven. They were entranced with the feast set before them and had no interest in me. So I set up plates of the stones and skins at the other side of the table and they seemed content to concentrate their eating marathon there. Of course, the fruit that I had the most of, was plums. If you are ever dumb enough to do plums, take my advice: use only cling-free plums, not the ones that refuse to surrender their stones. They are a disaster when one is trying to remove the stones for bottling, and doubles the time it takes to process them.

In the end the last of the plums went into the jars, stones and all. They could be separated while being eaten at breakfast. Usually, breakfast consists of mixed granolas and a big spoonful each of apple, plum, peach and pear, with a dollop of yogurt, and milk. It tastes great and brings back memories of the summer sunshine, to help cope with nasty cold snowy winter storms.

Luckily, the pears weren’t ripe when I went down to Hilary for the weekend. I was completely canninged-out. But she said we should pick them anyway because otherwise the bugs and beasts would get them. While up the ladder I grasped an almost-out-of-reach pear and, unknowingly, also a wasp, who didn’t approve at all! Oh, well! If that was the worst thing that happened to me, that was pretty lucky; but it was strange that the only wasp we encountered with the pears, stung me, whereas none of the multitude of the plum wasps had bothered. My hand swelled up for a few days, then got bored when it discovered it wasn’t the center of attention, and shrank back to normal. By the next season I anticipated some sort of screen tent would be needed, to keep the bugs and beasties and, of course, wasps, away during the canning season. But by then the wheel of fortune had turned again, so the screen tent never materialized.

Meantime, the pears were waiting for me, after which it would be the turn of the tomatoes, and apples. That would take care of everything that could be preserved by the boiling water bath method.