The first abundant harvest from each years garden gives me a sense of joy. As I carry the load of green beans and beets from my car to the house I grin foolishly at what is about to take place. I place my load of goods in the sink and start to wash away the nourishing dirt, signaling the turning point in this plants life from growth to it’s giving of nourishment to others.
Opening the door under the basement stairs I enter another world. Shelves line one short wall from floor to ceiling, holding mostly empty jars now with just a few colorful preserves remaining. Half a year ago they would have held magenta beets, green dilly beans, red salsa and tomato sauce, orange peaches, and purple jellies. I pick out the largest pot and place inside jars, lids, rings, and utensils. My treasures come with me to the surface and become semi-permanent fixtures in my kitchen.
Everything gets washed in soapy warm water, then boiled in the large pot on the stove. Overturned jars line fresh towels placed on the counter. My kitchen slowly heats with the steam from the boiling pot. Another pot of water is brought to boil for the beets and yet another for the dilly bean brine. The beet water turning a dark magenta as the color and sugar is cooked from them. A warm earthy smell fills the kitchen as I begin to snap the beans and pack them, along with the seasonings, into warm jars. Now the acidic vinegar smell is added to the mix as it starts to bubble. The beets are now soft enough to peal and are placed in the metal strainer in the sink, the juice saved for jelly, then rinsed with cool water. Purple stains my fingers as the slippery outer layer comes off the beets and they are cut and placed in the pot to be boiled, this time in a sticky sweet blend of sugar, spice, vinegar, and water.
I slowly pour the dilly brine through a funnel into the jars of beans. My nose stung slightly by the strong smell of vinegar. Holding loosely to the now hot jars, I wipe the rims and turn on the new rings and seals, the metal scraping against the glass. Using my favorite green crocheted pot holders I remove the lid from my large canner, the hot moist steam curls up towards the ceiling. Jars of beans now line the bottom of the boiling pot as I place the cover back on. This is where the magic happens. The jars contents start to boil, pushing the extra air out. As this is happening the beets get there turn again. From the pot, through a funnel, into the jars, wipe, twist. Pulling the dull green jars of beans from the pot and transferring them to a clean towel to cool, I now put the bright jars of beets into the canner for their last boil.
I’m now hot and sweaty from the humidity, sticky from the boiling brine. Counters are wiped and dishes washed. As I start to scrub the floors I hear the first jar pop, signaling the end of the process. A smile comes to my lips as more jars pop, the tinny sound music to my ears.
This is only the first batch for the year. There are many more to come and although the popping of the jars will always bring a smile to my face the rest of the process starts to wear on me after about the five hundredth jar. I will begin to look forward to a time where all this mess will return to the basement for a winter of turning back to treasure.