Slice, meditate, dice, meditate, peel, meditate
Peeling, coring, slicing, dicing, straining, roasting, brining, blanching, chopping, simmering, canning, freezing, preserving --- the activity of an autumnal New England kitchen, and the rhythm of a spirit-filled home. There is something comforting about "putting things up", as they say -- whether it is canning or drying or freezing. It is the familiar moment of years and generations past. It is a rhythm like clicking rosary beads, familiar and full of meaning.
The sound of the pots and pans, the noise of the chopping makes me wonder how so many have so much less than this, and who stand outside doors of fullness, listening.
As I plunge tomatoes into boiling water and them cold water to release their skins, I think of how my mother taught me that. I see her bending over her stove, wiping a small curl of disobedient hair from her face with the back of her hand. I smell the scent of her tomato sauce. I stir mine with the same stir spoon she used to use.
What a blessing that I had a good mother. I feel the abundance of her love.
Or I think back to my great aunt, who gathered up the mushrooms that we had all foraged or in the woods, sorted out anything that would kill us, and strung the rest on threads to dry in her cellar next to the coal furnace. On Christmas Eve they would re-appear miraculously as wild mushroom soup.
There is a magical sense of mystery in the beloved crones of our families. They seem to know such deep things, and to produce such exotic results.
Generations of women have stocked larders for uncertain winters. They knew that in the dead of winter, their family could look forward to the taste of freshly canned peaches, or the briny tang of preserved mustard pickles or sweet pickled watermelon rind.
I feel the caring in these actions over time. To cook for people is to love them, to keep them safe from want and nurtured in a certain way.
We didn't waste things when I was little. We couldn't afford to. We scavenged the woods for mushrooms, and picked our gardens' provender right up to and beyond frost.
I love that the earth surrenders her treasures for us in such profound and ample ways.
We knew we could save the green tomatoes left on the vine before the first killing frost by wrapping them in newspaper and setting them out on window screens which had been set across saw horses in the basement. That way the air could circulate around them, and they would still ripen, but slowly now.
We can be so clever with small things, we humans. We really don't have to waste nearly as much as we do.
Those of us who didn't have orchards went to the pick-your own orchards so we could get them at half the price or less than if the farmer had picked them for us. There were even farms with pick-your-own green peppers and tomatoes in addition to the more familiar fruit farms.
Even the farmer figured out a system that helped him save his aching back. One person's need is another person's solution. We can make this world work if we just figure out how to cooperate. It's all about a need exchange.
My family scraped together enough money for a 20 cubic foot freezer and promptly filled it with my father's summer garden and meat gotten in bulk on sale. It felt wonderful watching it fill up.
After days of producing paper and typeface on a screen, all this preseving has me ein a state of delight -- look -- I am making something practical, something useful!
The storage shelves were lined with beautifully arranged jars of peaches, pears and plums. Fruit that wasn't pretty enough to can got made into sauces and jams, jellies and chutneys.
Everything and every body has a use. Sometimes the most damaged fruit can end up making the most elegant preserve,
My dad just grew enough onions to eat in summer -- after all he wasn't a farmer by trade. Gardening was his "extra" thing. So we'd buy a 50 pound bag of onions to cut up and freeze. Finally, when we got tired of slicing and crying, we would make a huge pot of onion butter. Onion butter is miraculous. Lots of big chunks of onion. Water. Salt. Cook on simmer for about a 24 hr day.
There we go again -- something with an unexpected result. If the goal is to make everything useful, it somehow happens. The lowly onion, grown face down in the dirt, emerges as a rich, exotic, dark brown butter. And with our advantages, what can we become?
But what Dad loved most about his garden was growing enough to give away. He'd leave bags of corn or tomatoes on the doorsteps of our neighbors, or with the nuns at church, or at a local orphanage. It made him so happy to do that, even though he had to deliberately plant more than we needed, and work that much extra after coming home from the factory.
In so many ways, there is always enough to give some away -- whether it is money or food or prayers or love or sincere wishes or a helping hand. We never run out of the ability to be of use to the world in some way.
There is something good about doing all this. Done over time it is not huge work. Done in a group it is fun. Several of us used to get together years ago and pool our money -- we'd buy veggies, take them to one of our houses where everyone would have brought their canning jars and we'd spend the day canning and laughing. At night we'd split up what was made.
Shared work for mutual benefit -- it really felt great! I wonder if we make the benefits of cooperation clear enough in America and the world at large?
But there is a feeling of righteousness that comes with this. By not allowing things to waste, by being frugal, we walk with a lighter footstep on the earth.
It is an important act of the spirit to not waste, to do what we can to use what the earth gives us with care. We are stewards of this vast creation. We need to find ways to do what we can, where we can, to support an un-wasteful life. In doing so, we honor and bless our earth, the earth that has such deep woman wisdom in her.
Great pictures of the process of canning tomatoes at Food In Jars. She also says:
Because my life is busy, I rarely do my tomatoes in one great, big canning day. Instead, I stretch the process out over several post-work weeknights. I’ll do four quarts at a time, because that’s how much my stock pot can hold during processing, and it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. I find that a 25 pound box of tomatoes will make approximately 12-14 quarts of tomatoes, and so I do four jars a night for three nights in a row. It keeps me sane and keeps my pantry filled with wonderful, local tomatoes all winter long.
Lori starts getting thankful as she cans her tomatoes.
Today as I was starting the tomato canning process, I thought again about the availability of water. I am so thankful for running water! No kidding! I often think of that and breathe a little prayer while I'm doing some task where water at the touch of a faucet handle is indispensable.
Gayla finds a connection between canning and meditation:
I’ve been canning long enough that it has become like meditation in motion. It’s one of those activities that allows me to focus one part of my brain on the doing while another part relaxes and opens up.
Dana observes some great things about fun and the kitchen:
In our history and throughout many cultures, cooking is seldom a solitary event. Resources are shared among the tribe, the extended family, the neighbors. And with that sharing and abundance arises an opportunity for enjoyment, camaraderie, playfulness.
The kitchen can be a place of worry and fret, or the boring routine of obligation, or the showcase for a monster ego. But sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it can be just plain old fun. Measuring and mixing and chopping and splashing about are almost primal activities. There's a reason most children play with mud pies and sandbox concoctions!
Mata H -- CE for Religion and Spirituality -- just froze a huge bunch of tomato sauce, and today bought apples and pears and lemons for applesauce. she'll be meditating her way through it. Onions are next. Maybe peppers. She can be found blogging at Time's Fool.