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"The jarring season leaves me carrying more responsibility
than I feel completely comfortable assuming."

Autumn brings jarring work. "Canning" doesn't adequately describe the experience of skinning and seeding a bushel of green chiles or blanching, peeling, and stuffing a hundred pounds of tomatoes into jars. The long, almost meditative hours spent in fine motor repetition with a razor sharp knife leaves the lower back barking for relief. The steamed up kitchen windows while the pressure cooker weight endlessly jiggles, jars the sleepy countenance of an early Autumn afternoon.

The procedures seem timeless and hardly need remembering anymore.
I suspect I inherited most of them. I come from a long line of canners, or jar-ers as they probably should have been called. Never saw a farm stand we could resist. Chronic over-planters, so when the season shifts, there's this almost frantic rush to preserve before the frost starts biting.

This year, I decided not to can tomatoes, since we just last week used the last of the '15 tomatoes, which leaves the forty-some '16 jars still in reserve in the larder. We don't eat that much pasta anymore, and so we don't use tomatoes at quite the rate we used to. I opted to freeze the green chile, so there will be no jars added this year on their account. We still have a few remaining from last year's epic chile jarring exercise.

I started a massive batch of stock on Sunday night because today (Tuesday) will be garbage day so the boiled out veg butts will be carted away before they fester too much. Besides, I needed the freezer room. I figure this batch will round out to seven jars, one pressure-cooker load, once I simmer the resulting stock down to a mere seven quarts. I think I had at least ten quarts after I drained off the butts.

A pressure cooker load takes about a half day, give or take, by the time I've carefully ladled the jars full, sealed in the contents with fresh lids soaked in hot water for at least five minutes, positioned those jars inside, filled the cooker with water (not too much!), brought that water up to steam, waited the requisite ten minutes for the containment vessel to properly offgas the air inside, settled the jiggling pressure regulator to only spit about four times per minute, then waited the seventy five minutes the old-fashioned canning (jarring) recipe book says to "process" meat stock, then waited for the cooker to lose its pressure (another hour, anyway), then, finally removed the gurgling finished product to cool on a towel-covered cake rack on the back of the counter. Then it's time to clean out the cooker and start all over again.

Today's real job will center around jarring a box of juice tomatoes, only about forty pounds. This job usually falls to The Muse, but it's mid-week and the tomatoes seem ready—anxious, really—to give up their juice, which will later be exclusively used to make Rainier Red Beers, an occasional homage to my Northwest roots. I'll extract the juice using an ancient, three-level, mottled black enamel juice extractor which looks as though it would have been right at home on a late-sixties hippy commune or an early Kibbutz. I think proper deployment might require the operator to wear a pointy witch hat and a cape, but I'm committed to wearing an apron instead.

Jarring is a form of practical chemistry, and I'm not a chemist and am hardly ever mistaken for practical. The science-y parts require just a little more concentration than I can comfortably carry around with me, so I refer to a fifty year old guide to remind me of what I really should not neglect. I live in terror during this jarring season that I'll blow out a section of the kitchen wall with an improperly configured and over-heated pressure cooker, equipment I should really not be allowed to operate unassisted. Most of my terrors are completely unfounded, like everyone's terrors, but not just the steamy kitchen leaves me sweating through the process. The jarring season leaves me carrying more responsibility than I feel completely comfortable assuming.

By the end of this day, I will have cleaned the kitchen, top to bottom, at least a half-dozen times because I become a sanitation freak when jarring. I will have for the first time in memory gotten to the bottom of the empty quart jar supply, which is saying something because we use quart jars for everything and they circulate like currency here. The juice will fill pints, which we still have plenty of. Small change.

The larder's a mess, having been poured through continuously over the past year. I really should slow down, take inventory, and reorganize the shelves so The Muse might have a halfway decent chance of finding anything down there. I probably won't do that today because I'm jarring and I can't be bothered with anything closer to the horizon than the sink and the stovetop. Tomorrow, I can start promising myself that I'll reorganize the larder. Today's reserved for trying to fill it to overflowing before the frost bites, always a jarring experience.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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