Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Can Can

Huck's been out of town and it's given me a chance to appreciate my friends who have kept me company, stepped in to help with child care, and hosted us for good times.  And you all seem to enjoy my canned goods, too. What more can a girl want?

Canned goods are subject to a wide array of responses and as an avid canner, there's only one response I like.

Huck thought to honor my 2011 collection with a photo
"OH.  Home made pickles.  John, look.  Sarajoy brought us Home Made Botulism! How thoughtful!"  "John" takes jar in latex-gloved hand directly to garbage. His face says he wishes the toxic waste disposal station was open at these kinds of hours, in these kinds of crises. End Scene.

Botulism happens.  Obviously.  And I'd like to point out to "John" that that's how I got the name Botulism Mom.  That's how I roll.  I feed my kids homegrown hospitalization on a regular basis.  What about tubes down the throat isn't healthy for kids?  9-1-1 is on my speed dial.  And I consider a weekly chat with my local EMT squad an essential part of The Good Life.

But if "John" dear insists on the "safety" of the global food system which hasn't ever produced a death (except for ecoli spinach, crazy cantaloupes, etc), what can I say?  I'll just keep my canned goods to myself or circulate them among people who can (harhar) appreciate that I planted, fertilized and weeded every damn strawberry, cucumber, beet and ALL the salsa ingredients.  I picked, stemmed and washed them.  I made jam and salsa and then processed these things in jars I pre-sterilized.  Maybe I am crazy.

I've been canning low risk, high acid foods for 10 years.  I use the most recent USDA recipes and recommendations. And I'm not canning meat or beans or bathtub hooch.  Yes, I was taught canning by a nearly homeless man with Hep C back in my Seattle Daze.  He also taught me how to make pumpkin pie from scratch and he was the original guerrilla gardener, before it became hip.  So he was a bit hygienically challenged, but when your salsa is made with the world's best disinfectant (vinegar) and boils for 30 minutes before you seal it up in 20 minutes of boiling water, you've kinda covered your bases.

Coyote '05: my commitment to a sanitary conditions is unquestionable
While cooking, I try to conjure up a feeling of love for the eaters of these dishes.  Or I used to.  I'm getting a little sick of the parental cooking grind and so I've backed off on trying so hard with the love in the dishes because that's just too much effort and intention for three meals a day with a hefty side of complaints.  But when I "can", there is no love left.  All the love went out the open windows long ago.  It's usually a hot August day and instead of lounging beach-side with a Pina Colada watching the life guard watching my kids, I've CHOSEN to hole myself up with two pots of boiling jam, vinegar, or salsa, and two larger pots of boiling water.  I have spent hours already assembling and prepping ingredients and disinfecting my kitchen before I even start this process.  And now I am, damn it, going to effing can until midnight.  I Pump Up the energy and Jam with some '80's pop,  but all too soon my pizzazz turns dark and I begin cursing.  "Those effers better LOVE this shit!  I hope they taste the sweat of my brow in every goll dern bite. Why the hell do I do this to myself?"  My enraged insanity is probably the most dangerous ingredient in this stuff.

A friend suggested we "can" together and I could show her the ropes. But I'm not sure our friendship could survive it.  I barely do.  However, I'm still enjoying my 5 1/2 gallons of green tomato salsa (you gotta build your unripe tomato recipe repertoire in this climate).  My pickles are inconsistent, but when you hit a good jar it's like heaven/orgasm.  And my strawberry jam tastes like you've gotten distracted on a warm summer day and are laying down between the rows of strawberries,  sniffing their sweet scent, staring up at the imaginative clouds, listening to the ecstatic hymns of birds, and occasionally sitting up to eat berries by the handful out of the bucket you were supposed to bring back to the house to make jam out of.

So a big thank you to all of my brave and wonderful friends who bravely try and seem to enjoy my canned goods.  Never mind that bitter taste, it's so full of good that you should survive psychically unscathed by that last push to preserve the holy revelations of our good earth.

In addition to canning, I do make my own cheese and yogurt and sometimes icecream and butter.  I also grow and wild harvest then dry a ton of herbs and mix them into yummy teas (that my kids prefer over any other kind) specific to whatever we need: immunity boosts, stomach calming, anxiety relief, cough, fever, migraines, afternoon with friends, etc, etc.  I was making tea for a friend I'd known a few years and she wandered in to the kitchen at the moment I was opening my herb cupboard and she stood in awe of my collection of medicinal herbs.  And she asked, "How come I never knew you did this too?" I don't know.  I just never comes up.  So, now you know.   I have a lot of cupboard space devoted to the glass jars and parts of my basement look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Some herbs in my basement 2011
The high school I attended (for the first two years) in Bellingham was close to "down town" where I had a job at Bellingham's first espresso place (pure conjecture... I can't prove it... but I'm pretty sure that it was) called The Cookie Cafe.  My dad took me to The Cookie Cafe once when I was about 8 or 9 and I immediately went home to journal about how much I wanted to work there when I was a teenager.  I did not remember that until a month ago when Blue and I found and read that journal together.  And I said, "OH MY GOD! I DID work there!"  ...for a totally lecherous boss who later lost the business to a class action sexual harassment lawsuit (that's what I heard anyway and I believe it).  But the point is that between school letting out and my shift starting at the cafe, I'd have some time to wander around and one day I wOndered into Wonderland Teas, an herbal apothecary, and I was hooked.  I fell hard.  I visited often.  I tried many of their teas.  And herbs have been an essential and evermore potent part of my life lo these 21 years since.

I felt obligated to tell you that so that you'll never be able to say to me: Why didn't I ever know that was such a big part of Sarajoy's life?  How come she never told ME about it!?   I told you. So now you know: I'm a crazy DYI home maker.


  1. Excellent blog post, Sarajoy! Brings me back to my canning days. I won't say those were the "good ol' days" because so much that was NOT good was also going on. But there is great satisfaction in producing jars of good stuff from your own garden. I have never made my own salsa but I've made a relish that used up logs of stuff from the garden. And I did not know you worked in a coffee shop. I would love to own a coffee shop.

  2. That should read "lots of stuff", not "logs of stuff" which doesn't sound quite so appetizing.



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