Canning is joyful, fun, and creative activity, but make no mistake, it is work. I’m not sure if it is the creative impulse or the fact of the hard work, but all canners inevitably seem to follow a trajectory that begins in hesitation and fear (OMG will I accidentally kill my friends and family!?), and ends in crazed jar hoarding and pimping. Many of you have followed along on this website or social media where I have mentioned the lengths I have gone to to acquire and schlep home pretty jars that I can’t buy here in Canada. For practical and budgetary reasons I still put up the bulk of my wares in the cheapest jars I can find wither thrifted or new, but the fact remains that I want the aesthetics of my handiwork to reflect the quality of the work I put into filling them. I gotta have nice jars!
I’ve tried all manner of jars over the years, and so far the jars that I love and covet most are simply crafted, glass and rubber works of art made by a German company called Weck. I bought my first set of fancy pants Weck canning jars 4 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. Several boxes later and I have managed to assemble a collection that includes at least one of very nearly every size and shape in their catalogue. The first jars I bought back in 2008 were the larger deco and tulip designs. They are absolutely gorgeous jars to be sure, but I immediately discovered that their awkward sizing and shape makes them difficult to can. I fumbled around over the course of two years, sustaining several minor burns, before giving up and deciding that they would be better used elsewhere.
I spent all of Monday getting the garden in order. Or, I should say, beginning to get the garden in order. Digging, cleaning, ripping out dead annuals, sowing seeds… my arms, shoulders, neck, legs, knees, everything are creaky, stiff, and sore. I did not stretch before I started. To be honest, I never stretch before I start, probably because I always fail to remember that gardening is hard work.
[Aside: Some of the pain was caused by lifting heavy luggage on and off of the train 4 times on Sunday. I brought home two cases of Ball quilted canning jars from a trip over the border. When is Berardin going to start offering the nicer designs here in Canada? Am I right, my fellow canning Canadians? Enough with the ugly crest and fruit designs! I am tired of stuffing my luggage full of glass whenever I travel to the US.]
I left home very early on Friday morning to catch a train to Rochester, NY where I was speaking at the Rochester Flower Show. Tee shirt weather persisted through the weekend and I was pleased when I stepped outside on Monday morning and found that the garden had exploded into life over three days of temperatures around or above 60F.
The Iris reticulata (above) were only just showing their leaves above the soil line at this time last year. Back then they were grown indoors in a pot — the fact that they are in full bloom outside is a testament to how far ahead of schedule we are this year.
This is my garden as of this morning. As you can see it is still a mess, but I’m getting there. Compare to what it was on this day last year. p.s. Look at my scruffy muppet dog at the back. She eats EVERYTHING.
Shortly after my fermentation obsession kicked in full-throttle, I became interested in Kombucha, a fermented beverage that enjoyed its moment in the spotlight as a health food fad through the 90s and again in the early 2000s. Having managed to skip over it entirely due to the rigorous sugar-free diet I was on back when the craze was at its peak, I bought a bottle of a commercial brand so that I could finally find out what all of the fuss was about. Since tasting it I have come to the conclusion that the tangy, fizzy beverage is enjoyable enough, but my real interest lies in the process of making it.
Kombucha is a sweet and sour drink that is made by placing an ugly, deformed, gelatinous mass that eerily resembles regurgitated rubber (hungry yet?), known as a mother or SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) into a vessel of sweetened black tea. Over time the SCOBY feeds on the sugars, resulting in a bubbly drink with a mild, vinegar-like bite.
My fermenting obsession continues to play out at a fever pitch. The honey wine is kicking ass and I just purchased 4lbs of parsnips from the farmers’ market with a loose plan to make parsnip wine. The book, (“Country Wines” 1953) speaks very highly of this particular brew.
Thanks to Paula, who sent me a link to the video (above) featuring Alex Hozven, the proprietor of a pickling business called The Cultured Pickle Shop, in Berkeley, CA (How many more reasons do I need to get my butt out to Berkeley?). Her enthusiasm is infectious and her ideas… Let me put it this way: fermentation is a great, wild world and I am only just barely beginning to scratch its surface.
I want to tell you about my new-found obsession with fermenting. I have been unsuccessfully trying to tell it here for months now. Where to begin is daunting and the words are always lost before I can find them.
I have played at fermenting things in the past, but it was always an after-thought. No big thrill. But then this summer… wow! The whole microbial action phenomenon business whatnot really captured my imagination and caught fire inside my mind. One day I was minding my own business and the next I was imagining herbal mixes to try, and juggling bottles of this and that in various stages of bubble. Fermenting is an alchemy of sorts and it is this that has tapped into a fascination with weird and wonderful natural processes that seems to be at the root of a lot of my food- and garden-related hobbies/obsessions with a precision that caught me unawares.
I am hooked. And the house reeks of kimchi. Read more…