My house is a lot cleaner in the winter time. I came downstairs this morning, and it looked like a bomb had gone off. Now, that's not an unusual occurrence in a house with small children and lots of cats, but the difference this morning was that it was my stuff. How did that happen? I am usually quite a neat person, confining my detritus to the end table near my favorite chair, and never more stuff of mine hanging about than it takes a minute or so to straighten up. This morning there were cookbooks of many sorts strewn about on top of the ottoman and couch, cascading onto the floor, heaped in piles, pages sprawled in most undignified fashion. Really, did I do this? I should be arrested for book abuse. There are magazines and catalogs I haven't read yet, notebooks and legal pads filled with my hasty scrawl, scraps of paper that make me say, “Oooh, THAT'S important, gotta hang onto that!” and a two month old wedding invitation I haven't RSVP-ed yet (oops). That is to say nothing of the piles of laundry hanging about hither and yon, everything from a pair of dirt covered work jeans to a pile of berry-stained towels. Oh my goodness, who is responsible for all of this???? Oh... right... ahem.
Summer is frantic. Last summer we were running around like crazy people trying to get all the necessary repairs done to the house before winter. I didn't even think about food. This summer, my job seems entirely analogous to that of a little mommy squirrel. While Shawn spends all his extra time running around making all the repairs (who knew that a duck could get itself stuck INSIDE the walls of the duck house?), I am chained, CHAINED I tell you, to the kitchen. And it's only berry season. I've started making a list of what I want canned, dried, or frozen before the fall is over. It caused a hysterical giggle to escape me, I won't lie. And it's nowhere near as much as we'll actually eat over the winter.
Then there's the explaining, trying to convince children that they may not eat what I've just canned into jam and dried into fruit leather, nor may they have dried whole blueberries on their cereal in the morning. They must eat fresh while fresh is to be had. It is still amazing to me how quickly, over the course of human history, we have lost the knack of eating seasonally. That includes NOT eating preserved when you can eat fresh. Just a couple of weeks of being the only one preserving for a family of four has turned me into a jam hoarder. “This stuff is for the winter time. Go get a handful of blueberries out of the fridge if you want something sweet.” It totally baffles my children. The food is there, why can't they just eat it now? We can just buy jam at the store if we run out later, right?
Nope. If I'm going to be serious about growing or locally sourcing as much of my own food as possible, then I have to draw the line somewhere. And I'm not so foolish as to try and go all-in the first year. So this year it's jam. This one small luxury item I will provide for myself or go without. But even as little as that causes chaos in my house. How much jam do we go through in a year? We don't actually know, but we estimate it at something like 150 to 240 ounces. That works out to something like 19 to 30 half pint jars. Totally doable, right? So I made that first batch of jam-turned-syrup... and we went through an entire jar in a single sitting. Woah. That's when jam rationing began, because I'm really not sure that I can keep up with a jar of jam a week. Besides, that much sugar can't be good for us, no matter that there's no refined white sugar in the recipe. Between the blueberries and maple syrup, there's definitely quite a bit in there. The problem seems to be that no one anticipated how much better home made jam would taste. Even me, and I definitely grew up in the presence of real jam. The things you forget.
So, all of these revelations have sparked a furor of recipe reading. After all, who wants to eat nothing but blueberry jam for an entire year? No matter how yummy it is, it's bound to grow tiresome after a few months. So I'm thinking about peaches, pears, and apples, dreaming about pumpkin butter, and wondering if I can get plums locally. I even promised my husband that I would try my hand at some banana butter (I know, no such thing as local bananas, but they're his favorite), though I can't promise anything like success. All of this is in addition to the regular canning we had already discussed, tomatoes, relish, pickles, various stocks and soups. Almost none of which do I have recipes for which don't require modification. And that's to say nothing of the dehydrating, which I've never done before this year.
I will say this again, it's only berry season, and my season is only just over two weeks old. I have made a gallon and a half of syrup, 128 servings of fruit leather, half a gallon of whole dried berries, and a gallon and a quarter of juice that will be part of a nice batch of blueberry mead. I have three gallons of jam worth of berries in the freezer (much better texture that way) that are slated for today. I have washed, sorted, frozen, chopped, juiced, picked, and pickled my way through over 50 pounds of berries, and 10 pounds of cucumbers (which are just getting started). That's to say nothing of all the things we've eaten fresh with nothing left over to preserve, like the peas, zucchini, and green beans. And all of these things require tending, weeding, watering and feeding, quite a few of them by me.
And some folks have a hard time adjusting to why I'm just not available. It's a hard thing to explain why you can't go to a party, or come for a visit because you're stuck in the kitchen. After all, if you have the money, why not just buy what you need? Why all this work? And I miss out. I'm at home when I'd much rather be off playing. I would much rather knit socks and watch TV than stand over the stove and stir hot jam, especially when it pops and I get burned. Sometimes principles are tough, but they're important, and they're mine. Even if they do leave little time for leisure, or even my regular chores. Knitting, weaving, spinning, ha! Laundry, ha! I'm lucky if we're scrounging clean unfolded laundry out of baskets in the bedroom. About the only thing staying clean is the kitchen.
This, folks, is me, practicing the fine art of letting go, because there are only so many hours in the day, and there is only one of me. So here I am, learning my own seasonal rhythms, learning to prioritize, to accept help, and delegating chores to my children. Not to mention learning to be ok with my own creative chaos. After all, everything is new to us this summer, eventually I will have standard go-to recipes, and experimentation will be reserved for just a few batches per year. I will not always be a book abuser. In the meantime, maybe I'll spend five minutes, and clean this stuff up.