Monday, August 18, 2008

A hundred little deaths

You know what makes a house feel like a home? No, silly, not a sheetrocked wall! Six quarts of home-preserved peaches, that's what.

First off, WTF? On the way home from our Sunday excursion to "the country" (a.k.a. east Portland), at the tail end of one of the hottest weekends of the year with twenty pounds of peaches and a flat of blueberries in the trunk, Alex and I pondered this very question. We've been together for fifteen years, and I don't think we've ever eaten canned peaches, so why my plan to clutter the kitchen with cauldrons of boiling water and an assembly line (consisting of SB and me) to blanch, cool, peel, cut, pit, cook, and can these summer fruits? I could just cut them up and freeze them, or, crazy thought, just enjoy them while they're in season, for breakfast with yogurt, or off the pit with lunch, or in cobblers or ice cream for dessert. But no, I wanted to preserve them.

The only reason we could come up with was that it would be funny to have canned peaches in winter that we could bust out some cold winter night when we wanted to pretend we were on Deadwood. Other hardcore fans of this most excellent show may remember how saloon/brothel owner Swearingen has one of his lackeys open a can of peaches for important meetings of the town leaders. (SB would be our lackey, of course, scampering down to the basement to receive a jar for our "family meetings.")

Not a compelling reason to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen, but yet, there we were: SB diligently slipping or scraping the fuzzy skins from the pulpy fruit while I managed the things involving heat and knives--so, everything else. When we got home today, we admired our handiwork and SB said, "Let's eat some!"

I responded, with a sharp intake of breath, "Are you kidding? Eat a fresh one. These are . . ."

"For winter," she muttered, remembering some Little House on the Prairie schlock I fed her as motivation while we were slaving away the night before.

"Right," I said, feeling a little silly. For winter? We live in a city that sees maybe two weeks of truly inclement weather--and those are broken up into a couple of days at a time, here and there. We live within ten blocks of three grocery stores, not in the middle of fricking nowhere, some place where you really have to stock up on food or else you might die of starvation. So, again, WTF?

I posed the question to my BFF on the phone this evening and she offered, "They look pretty," doing her job of supporting my whims unconditionally while not pointing out any utter contradictions or personality flaws. But this suggestion, the best effort of an incredibly smart person, was pretty thin, and we both knew it.

Yes, they do look pretty, and I do feel satisfied to see the growing collection of jars in our basement, but that's not the whole story. I also don't think my reasons are as altruistic or political as what Harriet at Preserve (where I learned to can) would say, that growing and preserving our own food is a way of breaking our dependence on both an industrial food production complex and a flawed economic system that has consumers stuck in a cycle of working too much and buying too much toward some unclear end.

This all makes a lot of sense to me, but I think another reason I've spent so much time this summer looking for, eating, and preserving seasonal produce is more emotional. Every summer that I've lived in Oregon, I've marked time through fruit, experiencing each as a mini-lifetime: anticipating the arrival of the first strawberries, then relishing them, preemptively mourning them, and, finally, fully mourning them. And so on, and so on with raspberries, peaches, blueberries, melons, figs, apples, pears--a hundred little births and deaths. Thinking about eating Hood strawberries only once a year is a little bit heartbreaking, especially when I do the math and think about how many more strawberry seasons I have ahead of me.

Sentimental and overly dramatic thoughts, for sure, and more evidence of why rudimentary math skills in the hands of a writer is a dangerous thing. Considering that I'm on the verge of turning forty, this reeks of a pre-midlife crisis, which totally fits. I am the queen of preemptive mourning. I mean, if I let myself mark time like this in other ways--number of family summers we have before SB is an adult, for example--I'd just end up curled up in fetal position in a darkened room for days. So maybe putting up these peaches is a way of stopping time or, at least, messing with it. I don't know about you, but I find that a little denial and delusions of control are helpful in getting through any given day.


Cheri said...

Canned fruit in glass jars are a thing of beauty. And the process of preservation that you go through -- all that work (I did it once in 1989) -- extends the appreciation of the fruit into winter. Such beautiful fruit must be appreciated. It's a little bit like worship.

fasenfest said...

I find that food preservation is easiest to understand when you live close enough to watch beans dying on the vine or pears rotting on the ground due to your inattention or indifference. The direct connection to stewardship is in your face. If you don't do it who will? You kinda feel shamed into doing it. Not that I like feeling shame but it works. I hate seeing food rot which is why I started all this - I have a huge pear tree in my backyard.

But it was certainly easier when we had no choice, when the abundance of the season was a blessing that we had to make good on. Clearly, having choices makes it harder to justify the work involved in taking up the gauntlet of food preservation.

Yes, the peaches et. al., look great on the shelf but I always worry that the moment the aesthetic fades the motive force will as well.

Environmental stewardship and food scarcity and water rights and corporate agriculture (I just read something about the next best investment opportunities are mutual funds focused on the buying up agricultural land - minimum investment $1,000,0000) pose very real and important reasons to take on the task of growing and preserving your own food. And while it is true not everyone wants or needs to come from this perspective, I think it is the one that will keep us on the task since playing house may fade when the reality of the hard and hot work involved is challenged by a life of too many options (at least for now).

Yea, not as much fun as make believe to be sure but a lot more grounded in function.

DomaMama said...

I think beauty is a pretty big motivator for me, but also a good point about shame. The yard of our new house is so tiny--trying to figure out how to plant more fruit trees and vegetables. We have several tomato plants tucked in between perennials and planting boxes in hopes of producing enough to can and freeze. I have to admit that reducing our reliance on corporate agriculture really appeals to my contrarian side!

Cheri said...

"Yes, the peaches et. al., look great on the shelf but I always worry that the moment the aesthetic fades the motive force will as well. "

When will peaches' aesthetic fade? Why must stewardship be no fun? Who wants to join a revolution when you can't dance?

disa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.