17 September 2009

The smell of rot

A walk in the garden and the smell of rot in my nose – slugs chew through tomatoes punked on the ground, thin walls blotched and putrid with collapse. Now is not the time to rest, glorious though these fall days are. The abundance around us will not last because a frost will come and kill what the slugs haven’t. For now, this bounty is ours to extend. Now is the time to can and preserve and salt and cure and freeze. This is the time to buy bushels of apples, heads of cabbage and pounds of tomatoes. This bounty is fleeting. We can eat local a lot longer than the first frost, and we can eat good food throughout the year without paying a fortune for it. If we don’t like the bland, cardboard tomatoes we find in the supermarket in February, then can the rich, flavorful, and bounteous ones today. As much as I enjoy being outdoors on these gorgeous autumn days, I know I’ve got to spend time in the kitchen.

We want good food but we don’t want to “slave” in the kitchen to ensure it. We’re used to buying whatever we want without regard for time or place. Maybe there are some things you can’t buy. As much as Hunt and Muir Glen want to convince us that quality can be bought for $.99 or $3.25 a can, there is pleasure in opening a jar of your own tomatoes in the depths of winter and smelling today’s warm September air, ripe and sun drenched. And rows of canning jars cooling on the dining room table add incalculable richness to our understanding of seasonality.

Just as we’ve lost so many old varieties of seed, we’re also losing traditional ways of storing food to extend its life. We’ve abandoned traditions because we have full refrigerators and well-stocked supermarkets. We feel we have no need to remember or re-learn the old arts of food storage. Root cellars are obsolete and canning, itself a relatively modern invention, is as archaic to many of us as a 33 record. Right now we’re surrounded by a lot of vegetables and it feels like they’ll be here forever but they won’t because winter is coming and the ground will freeze before we know it.

Do you want to spend an entire fall weekend in a hot, steamy kitchen? If you’re willing to, you might discover than it’s an enjoyable way to spend time with your kids or spouse or neighbors. Have a canning party now and in February you’ll savor the bounty of this season.

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