Monday, August 31, 2009


...or so it feels.

Why does canning my own tomato sauce feel like an act of rebellion? Can I not just buy canned tomato sauce (or paste, or diced, or whole or whatever) more quickly and cheaply than spending hours cutting and peeling and standing over boiling water? Why in the world would I want to do this?

That's a good question...

Why do I fix my own bikes? Why do I cook my own meals? Make my own computers? Grow my own vegetables? Ride my bike in all weather?

Why do I want to live my life? Do for myself? Continue learning -- and by learning, I mean learning by doing and not learning by watching TV and "learning" about some subject. I want to do for myself. To fail as I did when I first started canning these tomatoes -- I forgot the lemon juice. I had to pour all the jars back into the cooking pot, add the lemon juice and start all over again after cleaning out the jars. Do I need the lemon juice? Intellectually, I think I don't, but I've never canned tomatoes before, so I follow the directions, pour out the canned tomatoes and start again. I don't know. Maybe next year I'll know, but right now I don't. I follow the directions, I learn the basics and subsume my ego, myself. I try to find Beginner's Mind.

I learn, I listen (or read) from those who know. I've never canned. I have ideas, but I've never canned and My Ideas Don't Count.

I learn. I fail. I succeed.

I have 7 quarts of tomato sauce. At what cost? I could have purchased tomato sauce for much less than the canning jars, tomatoes, lids, water, gas and pots needed. I would still be ignorant, I wouldn't have failed. I wouldn't have forgotten the lemon juice. I wouldn't have spent the time feeling the tomatoes, cutting the stems and bad bits away, smelling the scent as they collapse in the pan, sweated over the boiling tomatoes and jars. I wouldn't have forgotten the lemon juice. I would just have cans of tomatoes. An ingredient, nothing more.

I wouldn't have learned anything.

Now I know about lemon juice and hot jars and stirring and smells and sweat and I appreciate my sauce. It now has more meaning than just something that you pour over noodles. Something in which meatballs swim -- there's a lesson, some life's meaning.

Easy doesn't mean much, you don't learn, you never care, you don't remember.

Tomato sauce, jams and pickles and mustards. Living life with what is vibrant now and capturing it and the smells and sights while still vital and fresh.


Not the safe, comfortable, easy way.


Sunday, August 16, 2009


Me darlin' Mrs and I have been experimenting with canning as of the past couple of months and we've met with the usual combination of failure and success that comes with new ventures. For the past couple of years, we've gathered fresh things from the Farmer's Market and blanch, peel and freeze them for the year. We then added a vacuum bagger to seal things better in the freezer; typically we'll find a good deal on fresh fish in bulk and we'll separate it into single serving sizes for the freezer or bag up sauerkraut or Kim Chi.

Now we are expanding our preservation activities to include canning. We've met with success in canning pickles and beets and we've had mixed results with making jam. There are a large number of variables that can dictate the outcome of your preserves and getting them all under control is something that only comes with either being taught by someone who has done it for a while or, alternatively, through your own failures and introspection. As I am of the generation whose family didn't can (why? we have grocery stores...), we are learning from trial and error and from whatever books we can find on the subject.

Canning is a fairly specific form of cooking that doesn't lend itself to improvisation as the amounts of sugar, acid and (possibly) pectin are to be followed along with cooking times to ensure that you are able to meet with success. Even if you follow the recipe, you are not guaranteed that success as we've found out last night. We were in Door County, Wisconsin last weekend and we found an orchard that had pick-your-own cherries. Mrs and I easily picked two buckets that weighed in about twelve or thirteen pounds total. We immediately froze half of them upon returning home (quick aside -- freezing berries consists of putting them in a single layer in the freezer and then bagging them when frozen), while we waited to process the remaining fresh ones. We probably waited too long as one of the cardinal rules of canning is to use the absolute freshest fruit, possibly even a little under ripe. We now have jars of lovely sour cherry sauce instead of the jams we had hoped to give as holiday gifts.

As I say, we are learning the hard way.

But we have made jam from strawberries and the batch me darlin' Mrs. made was the best I've ever had. We duplicated the recipe from less ripe fruit and we ended up with a batch didn't set (turn into jam). Blueberries jammed well as did the raspberries.

But not all canning was jams, other experiments are different recipes for pickles. Mrs Yam likes the vinegary dill and I like the Kosher sours without vinegar. I've found a great book on fermenting that has a pickle I really like: Sandor Katz's cookbook entitled Wild Fermentation. I had first heard of this book last year at a demonstration of Sauerkraut preparation in Wisconsin. We have been making things from the book ever since.

As tomatoes are coming into season (as an aside, mine are finally ripening), we will be canning them into sauces and different preparations of plain ol' tomatoes: diced, chopped, whole, etc. I'll be making salsa and storing it as I've gotten kinda tired of paying 5 bucks for it and I can make better stuff anyway. I'll also be doing roasted peppers (both Poblanos and Sweet Red Bells) and various onion recipes like Chow Chow and Sweet Onion jam. Since the summer was so cool and that slowed the ripening of my tomatoes, I can expect that come late September there will be a lot of green tomatoes to turn into relish. Ah, well, no rest for the wicked...

We'll eventually be expanding our repertoire to include meat sauces and other low acid food preserving, but that will have to come when we feel confident enough to get a pressure canner. In the mean time, I will happily content my self by standing over large pots of boiling water and fruits during the August heat and humidity with my sweetie and dream of cooler days when this will a welcome reminder of summer.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Little Pony

Road find:

I found it while bikin' to da bar Wednesday. Dumvee the pony is now safely secured to the stem as my mascot.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A bee in my bonnet

I think I need to rethink this whole wearing a helmet thing. A stinging insect became caught in my bucket and did what stinging insects to best. Not really a recommended way to start your day.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

After the Fall

Went mountain biking Friday with Man-Cub and my perfect record still stands: I've been knocked from my bike each time I've been out. This time we were at Salem Hills in Inver Grove Heights and I didn't make it 20 meters into the trail when I biffed it on a berm during a turn. Sent me straight on my back and knocked the wind out of me.

Not having the sense God gave gravel, I perched my aching posterior back on the bike and continued through without incident. This is a beautiful trail and the mix of woods and prairie are really pretty.

I just hope I can get good enough at this that I don't have to stare at the trail the whole damn time...

Two days after and the pain is greater than either of the two previous days, but this isn't unexpected -- it should be better from here on out. It's hard to sleep, stand or sit, but I still look forward to going out again. Perhaps the river bottoms are next.