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thar she blows

I’m sorry if the title led you to believe that this post is about pirates. Or about blow jobs. It is about neither of those things. But stay. Because this post is about something a lot more scurvy and dangerous than pirates or blow jobs. This post is about home canning.

Every few years, I dive headfirst into a hobby. The more expensive and time-consuming, the better. I buy all the stuff, and then I become mired in it to the point of exhaustion. That’s how I was with scrapbooking our travel photos before our kids put an end to both travel and leisure time. That’s how I was with knitting. Sweaters and drawstring pants for baby, hats by the dozen, scarves by the yard. And then one day, after buying twelve skeins of yarn to knit myself a sweater, I had a rare moment of clarity and realized that my $140 yarn would inevitably produce an ill-fitting woolen poncho that would look like something I bought off a yak during a hike to Macchu Pichu. Something so ugly that it would be ridiculous to say that I knitted it myself, because it would be patently obvious. What’s the point of knitting something if you can’t tell someone that you made it? Yeah. I don’t know either. I put the knitting needles away, and haven’t looked back since.

I’d been tempted to try canning for years. I always lacked the time, and the equipment. But last weekend, half my family was away in Michigan, and I had gobs of time to fill. So I gave it a go.


I think canning could stick. For starters, canning appeals to my myriad anal retentive qualities. There’s the measuring. The sterilizing. The timekeeping. And the sealing (hermetically). Even better, the stakes are high if things are done wrong. I work best under pressure. And there’s nothing to make you feel alive like knowing that if you gift someone food that you’ve canned wrong, they could die of botulism. Or, there’s nothing to make you feel alive like a capsaicin burn from cutting three pounds of jalapeno peppers for your pickled escabeche.

But all that is kids’ stuff compared to the most dangerous thing about canning—the boiling of the canned goods. Reading the instructions in my canning book, I felt the disconnect that results when you read something crazy and your common sense screams at you that the writer got it wrong. Incidentally, this happens to me every time I read an article about applying eye makeup. Anyway, my canning book (Food in Jars) instructed me to stuff a hot glass jar full of hot jam, seal it up, and then drop it into a pot of boiling water. I’m no scientist, but I learned a couple things in 5th grade that have stayed with me through the years, and one of those things is that sealed objects in high heat will explode.

But I’d come this far, and spent a lot of money on produce. I looked down at Tate, who was sitting on the kitchen floor making a salad of wooden vegetables and monopoly money. I picked him up and moved him into the living room. Then I dropped the jars into the pot, and ran for cover.

Peering into my kitchen at the sealed jars boiling away on my burner, I felt the thrill of living on the edge. The cans did not explode! YES. I win canning.

The best thing of all about canning is that I didn’t just create something ornamental. I created food. I’m giving LIFE. I’m a provider, putting up my pickles and jams, which I’m 65% certain are sealed properly. What’s that about the apocalypse? I’ll be in the basement sprinkling jalapenos on my fish tacos.


Canning labels and gift tags, Jigsaw Graphics

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Man! I’ve always wanted to do canning! I need to cross that off my list. But I made my own baby food… that’s almost the same thing, right? Heh.. I like your writing style, btw!

    November 21, 2012
    • making baby food is high up there on list of useful hobbies

      November 21, 2012
  2. patrick! #

    Please tell me you did some pickles and not just jam. Green beans? Beets? Cauliflower? YUM. I’ve wanted to get into canning for years but wasn’t willing to pay the couple hundred dollars to get everything and I’m too lazy to get things one at a time. Maybe at a garage sale? Or from an estate sale, those old people canned like lunatics. “Someones in my fruit cellar, SOMEONE WITH A FRESH SOUL!” Evil Dead II-

    November 21, 2012
    • dude it did not cost me a couple hundred dollars. tongs and funnel were like $10 a piece and the canning rack was 14. you do need a 16-qt stockpot but if you don’t have one they cost like $30 at fred meyer. and then the jars i guess, and the book, although you can get a lot of recipes and instructions online. anyway. you work above a sur la table–no excuses

      November 21, 2012
  3. There is truly nothing more exhilarating than not blowing up your beloveds while putting up food that might actually kill them now they’ve survived the explosion-that-wasn’t. Plus those mason jars continue to come in handy long after you’ve eaten your 14 jars of peach jam all while fending off complaints that really, grape is what I like best and besides we are all so so TIRED OF PEACH ALL THE TIME OH MY GOD CAN”T WE JUST BUY JAM LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD??

    The other best thing about canning? That wide-mouthed canning funnel is the very best tool for putting any/everything else in the universe into a jar. And the tongs! Don’t even get me started…..

    November 21, 2012
    • yes. yes. the tongs and the funnel are seriously amazing. this is the thought that i had while using them: why can’t all objects in life be this functional and inexpensive? if this hobby lasts until next summer when there are ample quantities of fresh fruit available, i will really be in trouble

      November 21, 2012

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