Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Bad Day of Canning

Ever hear the old saw "A bad day of golf is better than a good day of work?" I am wondering if it applies to home canning. Is a bad day of canning better than a good day at work? It's been a while since I've had a truly good day at work. I am an automotive engineer, so any day that I am still employed is considered a good day in this economy, but I digress...

I often post about successful canning episodes, yesterday's canning went so badly I have to write about it. The root cause of my problem is too much multitasking. I started out with the best of intentions. My neighbor Martha and I headed out to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market early. Having just picked up my Girl Scout from Camp Linden after a week of horseback riding, the weekend was my oyster. I haven't had a weekend all summer where I didn't have a bunch of commitments or was out of town camping myself. I decided if cherries were still available, I'd make cherry raspberry conserve. I also wanted to make brined dill pickles because of a great thread on pickling that we have going on the AAHomeCanning list. While there, Erie Farms had these fluorescent looking green plums called "Green Gage" that *would have* made a beautiful jam. That is, if I wouldn't have blown it....but I did.

The root cause of my canning problems was multitasking. I got home and dumped the cukes in the laundry room washtub. Pickling is a laundry room activity for me, because it is the coolest room in the house. The laundry room in Maison du Mothers Kitchen is downstairs, as was typical of the architecture of it's day, circa 1978. This was long before builders got the excellent idea to put them upstairs, where the laundry actually is.

Being a mother in a laundry room, I did what I had to do. I did what every mother would do - throw in a load. Ever since I became a mother, I've been unable to resist it - I am called to continuously do laundry. When I walk anywhere near the laundry room, it's like Pavlov's dog, I've got to do the wash. (or "warsh", as my mother in law pronounced it). My mother in law felt compelled to do the warsh every day, long after her 5 kids left home and her husband passed away. She didn't even have enough to do once a week, but she couldn't stop herself. I vaguely remember some times in college where I wouldn't do laundry until I ran out of underwear. Those were the days....

The load tucked into the machine, I headed upstairs to the kitchen to pit the plums. I forgot to ask if this Green Gage was free stone, and it wasn't. I only cut my thumbs a million times trying to pit these tiny beauties, but at last I was done. I added the sugar and put the pot on to cook. Meanwhile, it was about then that I realized that the cukes were still in the laundry tub, and the washing machine was about to disgorge it's dirty soapy water on them. Quick, down the stairs to rescue them! I dumped them into the only vessel I had which was my pickling crock that had 15 years of dust in it. The cukes had to be rewashed.

I went upstairs to get the pickling spice when I smelled what I thought reminded me of cotton candy. This made me think of the Michigan State Far, and I started day dreaming about winning a blue ribbon in canning with my plum jam and it was then that I remembered the plums. The cotton candy smell was actually the scent of sugar and plums burning to the bottom of my pan. Sigh. I put the pot in the sink and ran water into it. The plums were welded to the bottom of the pan.

All is not lost! A bad day of canning is STILL BETTER than a good day at work, I cheerfully reminded myself as I went back downstairs to commence on the pickles. It was then I realized I didn't have enough dill in the garden. Finding dill for pickling in this town is a difficult task, as I should have remembered from other pickling exploits. What's required is bunches of it with flowers on it, not those petite little fronds you find in sealed in plastic containers in the produce section at the grocery store. Used mostly by people making pickles, (probably only two of us in the whole county) I can understand why fully mature dill might not be stocked. Whole Foods = Nope, Hiller's = Nada. I headed out for Alexander's Farm Market on Whitmore Lake Road after I said a prayer that they had some. I wasn't sure which saint I should ask for to intervene at this point. St. Jude? The patron saint of lost causes? Seemed like overkill. It's just dill. St. Anthony, who helps find lost things? But I didn't actually lose the dill....The Blessed Mother? She would certainly understand, especially the part about the laundry. But I like to save her for special requests, like not getting speeding tickets and getting promotions at work. Is there a patron saint of dill? Instead, I just went right to the Big Guy himself. I bowed my head in prayer. "Dear God, please let there be some dill at Alexanders. Thank you from your humble servant." This brought gales of laughter from the middle schooler in the back seat. "You, HUMBLE? snort. Good one, Mom!" Ha ha ha...very funny.

I went in and there was no dill to be found. I poked my head in the back room where Sharon Alexander's man was standing, and asked him if he had some and he DID. It was in the cooler! There is a GOD! I went home and brined my pickles. Feeling renewed, I poured myself a big glass of wine and started pitting the cherries. Another big mistake. One of my cardinal rules of canning is I never start drinking until the last jars are in the canner, but I felt I deserved this. Big mistake! While drinking wine and surfing the internet, I cooked the cherries too long and my conserve seized up tighter than fruit leather. I decided to sample some this morning and couldn't barely get a knife into it. Double sigh...

Today, I am a lot more humble about my canning skills. If I can find a patron saint of pickles or maybe cooking I will pray for the pickles. It will be a month of fermenting before I know if I messed them up. I was cleaning the lint trap out of the dryer this morning and almost threw the lint in the crock instead of the garbage can. (whoops!). But the dill smells great and there is hope that come August, there will be pickles and hopefully I will still have a job and all will be right with the world again.

5 comments:

TeacherPatti said...

I gotta agree that a bad day doing anything is better than working :)

If it will help, I will pray to Moses next time you can. Then we have the Jews and the Christians involved and we just need someone from Islam, the Buddha, etc.

:) :)

Shayne said...

I do some canning but I have to say I am not so gifted where I could attempt that in a weekend and I am sure never in a day.

eatclosetohome said...

Uff! How frustrating!

If you ever run out of dill again, drive down Parker road and pick all you want from the roadside...

A.B. said...

WOW. So I was actually inspired by our canning conversations at the lady blogger picnic, and I lost my jam-making virginity two weeks ago to a lovely raspberry-red currant jam. The following day I made the blueberry lime jam from the Ball canning book but made a triple batch...so it turned out very very soft...only after I was cursing (over my second beer) did I read in the book that you're supposed to work in small batches only, or else the gelling doesn't happen properly...Oh well. It's still good, just saucy. I thought that episode was a canning blunder...now I know better!

TennZen said...

When I was a kid, Fr. Rich used to say that if we needed a saint's intercession for something totally unique, that we should call upon St. Polycarp... because Polycarp is so obscure that he certainly wouldn't be flooded with prayer requests! ;)

So, St. Polycarp - patron saint of pickles and parking spaces - pray for us!