verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.
For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.
Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”
The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.
But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.
By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.
It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.
The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries. Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.
You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.
I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.
And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?
It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.