“Putting Up”: Food and Community, part 2

I’m still thrilled about beginning our tomato sauce canning campaign for the year last weekend. I think the appropriate words to use are “put up” when talking about preserving (as in, “we put up 17 pints of sauce”). I didn’t grow up saying that, but I kind of like it. In this particular part of the country, they use “put up” to mean “put away” for just about everything (as in “put up the laundry” or “put up that choir music until next week”). Maybe I’ll start saying it. We’ll see.

“Putting up” food is a lost art, though it is gradually gaining popularity again. I’m happy with this trend. I remember my mom’s freezer full of homemade applesauce, strawberry jam, and bag upon bag of frozen cooked corn.

These are all hot, messy pursuits, but in the middle of winter you tend to forget all of that.

Still, when you’re right in the midst of it with sweat trickling down your back (and front), and you’re trying to wipe your brow with your forearm to avoid getting tomato goop on your face, well, sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the task at hand. While blanching and peeling the tomatoes on Saturday, I was trying to think of the ways I could write a poem about the event (and trust me, I will). Two things came to mind: open heart surgery and the Eucharist. I’m pretty sure I can work with both of these ideas.*

See, back when I was in elementary school, I went to work with my mom for “take your child to work day.” My mom happened to be a nurse in the heart room at the local hospital–that means she worked in the very room where open heart surgery was taking place. Do you believe they let us eleven-, twelve-, thirteen-year-olds put on scrubs and masks and hair nets and stand beside the table while some poor soul was anesthetized, lying on the table, sternum cranked open? Well, they did. And I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Elbow-deep into tomato skins got me back to that moment.

But I also got thinking about the Eucharist (or Communion, or Lord’s Supper, whatever you happen to call it). That, too, is a remembrance of food preparation. It’s about being broken, about bleeding, and about restoring life.

I really can’t wait to write a poem or an essay about this. But that’s not the point here.

My mother-in-law is pretty amazing when it comes to “putting up” food, and since I am one of the many who benefits from her pantry, she deserves a special shout out. She cans peaches, applesauce, cherries, jellies, and I have no idea what else. She freezes corn. Lots and lots and lots of corn. Recently, she e-mailed me this:

I just finished canning 25 jars of peach jelly and 14 quarts of peaches–a start for the winter, but nowhere near done.  It occurred to me as I was washing up the stickyness afterwards–the one pot I always use was my mother’s favorite canning pot and she tells me she worked with her mother canning using the same pot.  I wonder how many jars have been canned using that pot and how many ears of corn, beans, etc., have seen that pot before being put on the shelves for winter consumption?

I’m someone who thinks like this, too, as has been made clear in previous posts. I wonder about the histories of things. Since I love kitchen things in particular, Elaine’s musings about the history of her WearEver pot are grand. I even looked up “WearEver,” by the way, and found out that the cookware brand goes the whole way back to 1903!

I don’t own a WearEver pot, but I do own these.

This set of three nesting bowls was a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law, and we use them for everything. (At the potluck on Sunday, our housemate A knew which three-bean-salad we had brought because he recognized the bowl.) I love the design (funky), the durability (Pyrex), and the practicality (two different spout sizes on each bowl!). I use them for soaking dried beans, holding fresh veggies (pre- and post-chopping), or serving fun salads.

But back to “putting up”: I have always wanted to be someone with a chest freezer full of chicken corn soup, bags of green beans from my garden, gallon Ziplocs of corn; someone with a pantry full of applesauce and peaches and tomato sauce; someone with a braid of garlic hanging above her sink, a big basket of potatoes and onions in the basement to get us through the winter. I’m sure these wishes came from reading Little House on the Prairie or something, but that’s okay. It’s not too embarrassing to admit it. 🙂

And I will be one of those people someday. For now, though, I’m pretty smug about the first round of tomato sauce.


*This did end up being a poem, by the way--it is the opener to 
my chapbook, Enough for Today, available from Finishing Line Press.