This is the time of year for good eats. Vegetables and fruit are plentiful in the garden, at the farmer's market, and on sale at the grocery store. The time of year when many of our great-grandmothers and their mothers and their mothers (the first frugal, simple, green-living mommas--thanks, Allie!) began preserving the harvest.
But then we were persuaded that this sort of work was drudgery. We were convinced that what came from the grocery store was more convenient and more sophisticated...That faster was better...
But after reading books about eating a local, sustainable diet (Nabhan, Pollan, Kingsolver, Berry, Slow Food Movement) it's hard to not want to lock up as much of the summer goodness as you can. And it's hard not to question thin promises of convenience, efficiency, and freedom. I've had all kinds of work that I could label at times as drudgery--sales clerk, teaching, writing, grading, even when I was a travel director. I've waited in line at the fast food restaurant and no matter how fast it comes, do we really think it's worth it? We're beginning to hear more of the costs of this type of eating for our health and our environment.
And yet, for me, trying to preserve our food myself is a challenge. First, I don't know what I'm doing! Second, I've got 3 children under 5. Isn't it enough to spend my time caring for them? Why learn this new time-consuming task?
It's a way to be frugal by stocking up on fresh fruit and vegetables at their cheapest (though there is the initial cost of jars and other equipment).
It's a way to eat well--produce is at the peak of its freshness and tastiness, packed with sunshine and vitamins. No additives, high-fructose corn syrup and other things we can't pronounce.
It's a way to become self-sufficient and productive. Most household economies produce nothing. We consume and consume and consume with little to show for it. We grow so tired consuming that we need to stop at the fast food store on the way home to cope; we complain of the drudgery.That's not the way it always was. And women's lives were filled with the knowledge and effort of real work for the good of their household. Work which brings delight to a family when a jar of homemade strawberry syrup is cracked open on a wintery morning.
And for these reasons and more, it's a way to eat sacramentally. In chapter one of his book, Living the Sabbath, Norman Wirzba explains that sacramental eating affirms the grace and beneficence of God made concrete: "we can learn to grow food and eat in a way that reflects thanksgiving and praise to God" (p. 27). As an illustration, he describes his grandfather, a small-time chicken farmer, who ate with a "realistic and palpable sense of the goodness and the costliness of creation--after all these chickens had died so he could eat. Their death could not be taken lightly, nor could their living. And so [the chicken's] very being demanded [the family's] respect and care. His eating was a sacramental eating, because it affirmed the grace and beneficence of God made concrete in the midst of his living. It was a Sabbath eating, permeated by his thanksgiving and praise to God" (p. 28).
And so, in this light, my small attempts to seek out good, healthy, sustainable, (yet affordable) food and then to preserve it for our family's use becomes a way for me to move toward more grateful and worshipful ways of being.
But how do we begin? Though I suggested some of these possibilities in this post, I'd like to suggest that preserving food through canning, freezing and drying is another place for sacramental eating to start.
And so here are a few ways that I have begun my attempts at food preservation over the last few years even when pregnant or with a new baby or little ones underfoot.
1. Learn from those who know. While I am a book person and I turn to the Internet for the littlest questions, there is nothing better than getting to watch up close and ask questions from someone of experience. Back in Wisconsin, I showed no shame and asked the women in my church who I heard put up their own tomato sauce if I could come over on one of their canning days. I asked a pie baker and a pesto maker to give me lessons. I was surprised when they seemed flattered and graciously shared advice and techniques. I enjoyed their company and hope I even helped. Space was created for fellowship as our conversations floated to topics such as house management, schooling, discipline, and God's work in our lives. "Work Bees" aren't part of most communities anymore and we wonder why it is so difficult to naturally create the kind of nurturing that Titus 2 describes.
If you don't know of anyone, ask a like-minded friend who also wants to learn. My sister-in-law has been great for this as I posted about here. With a friend, someone can hold the fort down, while the other nurses the baby or changes a diaper; children are occupied with a friend to play with.
2. Start with a clean work station. Tidy your house the night before, clear off lots of space on your counter tops. Wash all your jars and lids ahead of time.
3. Check and prep as much as possible the night before. Reread the directions and ingredients list. In a busy household, nothing can set you back more than a sink of dirty dishes or missing 1 tablespoon of lemon juice!
4. Plan ahead for meals that day. This is your morning for cold cereal and a banana and an even easier lunch. Have dinner ready to go in the crockpot or use up meals in the freezer. Nothing is more frustrating that to have worked for hours in the kitchen to then realize its supper time and you have nothing to show for it.
5. Plan what you'll do with your little ones. Maybe you can swap babysitting with a girlfriend--what an incentive to preserve--a morning to yourself?! But otherwise, have coloring books, playdough, or a new book on tape ready to go. And though we try to limit all screen time in our house, we're all about letting them watch an online classic sesame street video or an old Disney opera from the 1930s here and there.
But best of all, try to incorporate them into your activities.
Even preschoolers can fill the measuring cup with berries, be in charge of the mashing, cut off stems. In doing so, they get time with you. They learn all sorts of skills-measuring, counting, volume, following directions, fine motor skills. You also start instilling a culture of work and good habits into their life which can turn into their own experiences of delight.
6. But since your household is a busy one, minimize as many distractions as possible. Like the telephone! Use a timer; I never used one before kids but now I can stick something in the broiler for 3 minutes and then head off to change a diaper and completely forget the oven. Canning has lots of directions like boil for 15 minutes or simmer for 3 so I use a timer.
7. Start with easy stuff. Try one new thing each week or month or year!
For those of you who have never canned before, freezing your fresh herbs and vegetables is a simple start. Freezer jam is another great way to cheat at canning for the first timer. It requires little effort and is so delicious. Then build your repertoire slowly. Conquer your favorite fruit, put up your prized tomatoes.
Well, like I said, I have much to learn in this area and for much of my life I would have been resistant to the idea, but my hope is that "as our sensitivities expand and as our appreciation for the complex, gracious ways of God grows, we will gradually find that gratitude and praise are irrepressible. To experience God's hesed or covenantal love in the midst of our practical living is to enter God's domain of blessing and joy...As we learn to attend and respond to the creative, vivifying action of God among us, we will learn to participate in a Sabbath singing that is now attuned to and extends God's rhythms of delight and peace" (Weirzba p. 29).
All that from a jar of tomato sauce? Sign me up!