I live within a community that believes in home-bottled food. Namely, that it is an unalloyed good, an outward sign of an inner virtue, a mark of those fit to survive.
I am not entirely convinced — having cleaned out a fair share of family pantries full of dusty Mason jars. Relics to antique summers. Bottles of grey fruits that survived their bottlers. Outward signs only of time spent and the passing of same.
There are years I play the grasshopper and do not can a thing. There are years I only can applesauce — and that only because I have a tree. And sometimes I can only salsa, and only because the peppers are so pretty.
Even in my most provident years, there are some worthy fruits and vegetables that I will never bottle up — i.e. green beans — i.e. pears. A wonder in their own sphere and in their own season but too much like an over-stayed guest when presented in preserved form.
Most years I am a shame to my bottling neighbors and well-preserved kindred. Even with my precious smattering of strange jams — rose hip, quince, Japanese plum — it is obvious I am a Ball Book dilettante.
But I do like the devoted attention to the change of seasons when tracking the sequence from apricots, cherries, to peaches, pears, apples.
I like handling the quantities of fruits — fuzzy peaches, bloomy plums, glossy hot peppers. All those rounded globes of sweetness, all those worlds of varied fragrance.
And it was this community’s pervasive involvement with food in its basic state — the gardens, the fruit trees beside the driveways, the stacks of boxes of Ball jars in the hardware store — this general competence in laying the harvest by that was one of the things I came here for.
It was to learn to live this way I chose to live here.
Many of my longest friendships here began in the kitchens where I learned to first make applesauce or world’s best salsa.
Many warm September memories I have, many quiet July mornings preserved by heart now: gathering blueberries, picking peaches, climbing into cherry trees with these friends who were much younger then but just as beautiful as they are now — and our children flickering around the trunks of the trees — so small they once were — calling to us with their ungrown voices.
So I’m putting my bottles of fruit up, lining them up on table and counter like some proud American boast.
But you and I know — I’m only in it for the chance to play with quantities of fruit. To glut myself with juicy color. Indulge in the scents of it all, the shapes and weights. And to do it to public commendation.
And then eat it all up with a conscious sense of thrifty virtue.