It is August and I am in a panic. With the exception of eight quarts of blueberries and four packages of asparagus I have not canned, frozen, pickled, dried or preserved a single thing this season.
Preserving the harvest is in my DNA. My great-grandmothers, grandmothers, aunts and mother were all preservers. The truth is they were also hunters, gatherers, and growers (I come from a tribe of over-achievers but that’s a post for another day).
This time of year the cellar shelves are supposed to be sagging under the weight of jewel-colored jars of all sizes. “Like money in the bank” my grandfather used to say every year as we transported baskets of potatoes, squash, apples, cabbage and rutabaga to the bins in the darkest corner of that slightly creepy cellar with the rickety stairs. The message was deeply fixed in my psyche–as long as you have the ability (and will) to feed yourself you will always be rich in ways that matter.
So, fast forward to this year. I have a half-full freezer…but it is mostly meat from my CSA and those blueberries I mentioned earlier. My cellar shelves have about a dozen jars of jams leftover from last year (or maybe the year before) and a few stray jars of relish and some pickles that a friend delivered as a hostess gift a few months back. That’s it. Nothing else. Unless you count the stacks of dusty canning jars and the half-empty case of quart-sized freezer bags. No green beans, no peas, no beets. The freezer has no pesto, no rhubarb, no strawberries…
The thing is…I never made a conscious decision not to do the things I’ve done every other summer of my life. It wasn’t intentional at all. I just got busy with work and some other unanticipated events got in the way. Then one morning I’m making coffee, look at the calendar…it’s August! Winter is coming! We have no food put by! My ancestors (only the females so far) are pushing their way into my dreams now and waking me at 2:00am. I feel…guilty? Anxious? Stressed out? Probably some combination of all of those.
Of course in the light of day I can easily rationalize all of this. I’m a busy woman. I have been preoccupied with other things (like the debt ceiling). The weather has not been good for gardening (flood first, now drought). It’s been way too hot and humid to be in the kitchen. Besides, I have a job that allows me the luxury of being able to buy the food I need. In fact, I work with farmers…it’s my duty to buy locally-produced, sustainably-raised foods. And…the farmers’ market is open year round now. I’m never more than a few days away from being able to stock up. And it’s not like I live in the outback. I am half a mile from a grocery store and 3 miles from my coop.
Still, it’s not the same. Part of me feels like I’ve sacrificed something central to who I am. Letting dust collect on three generations of canning jars feels disrespectful. So this weekend, I’ll be combing the garden for beans, beets, tomatoes, raspberries and anything else I can gather and then I’ll spend some quality time in the kitchen getting ready for winter. Because, in the end, life is about balance. Listening to your heart and honoring who you are is the way to ground yourself (and fill your pantry).