By Laura Grimes
(Editor’s note: Sorry, you seem to be stuck with me. Mr. Scatter appears to be AWOL. Well, not AWOL. More like … A. He’s been traveling. B. He’s been canning. C. He’s been busy. … Hope you don’t mind.)
Perfecting the art of preserving requires more than an oversized canner and a jug of formaldehyde. It requires knowing all the naughty little secrets. Let me save you the trouble of trial and error and spill all the valuable lessons I’ve brought to a boil over the years:
–Even before you fire up the burner to heat up the canning water, you will spend a serious amount of time planning.
–Do not think about how much time you are planning.
–Calculating how many batches of what to make, what ingredients you already have, what ingredients you need to buy, will require no less than a spreadsheet and a scientific calculator.
–Hauling up supplies from the basement will require at least a dozen trips.
–When one of the Large Smelly Boys needs to look through the box of surplus school supplies in the basement so that he can obligingly check out the used page dividers and then determine they all have yucky torn holes and he needs new ones, tell him you’ll be happy to help him as long as he brings up a box of empty canning jars and a gallon of vinegar.
–Even before you fire up the burner to heat up the canning water, you will have to make no fewer than a half-dozen trips to a variety of stores.
–After you make no fewer than a half-dozen trips to a variety of stores, you will have to make another no fewer than a half-dozen trips to a variety of stores.
–At some point you will discover that 11 stores are completely out of yellow mustard seeds.
–At some point you will discover that the 12th store has 1.4-ounce bottles of yellow mustard seeds for $4.99 apiece.
–Do not think about doing the math on a scientific calculator comparing how much time and money canning costs compared to buying a ready-made jar off the shelf.
–You will tell yourself your little jars are made with love, which you cannot buy off the shelf.
–You will tell yourself your little jars of love are the best presents in the world even though you spotted your little unopened jars of love from three seasons ago in home pantries.
–Seasons ago times three.
–Home pantries plural.
–As soon as you clear out the calendar, load up on 10-pound bags of wilting-by-the-minute pickling cukes, and fire up the burner to boil a giant cauldron of water, it will be the hottest day of the year and push past 100 degrees.
–If it is not the hottest day of the year that pushes past 100 degrees, you will hear that rain is forecast, congratulate yourself on good timing and then have it turn out to be the very last sunny day of summer.
–If you miss out on the very last sunny day of summer, as soon as you label the last lid with a Sharpie and look forward to fresh air, the skies will open up and an ocean will pour down.
–Even though you have just brought home enough produce to feed a packed football stadium for a month, shelled out an obscene amount of cash, and the counters are overflowing with apples and bananas and peppers and plums and nectarines and berries and onions and herbs and tomatoes and potatoes and melons and pears and cucumbers and cauliflower and oranges and lettuce and cabbages and carrots and celery and corn, the Large Large Smelly Boy will walk into the kitchen, look around, open the fridge, and in utter seriousness, without even a hint of irony, without even a smidge of awareness that a heaven-be-praised stunningly grand bounty surrounds every speck of him, will groan for a full minute and say, “There’s nothing to eat.”
–Even though you have sliced and diced a bazillion pounds of produce and stirred and steamed concoction after concoction in a marathon that has lasted hours longer than that naked ancient Greek guy took to run one, you will not have a clue what’s for dinner.
–Even though you have sliced and diced a bazillion pounds of produce and stirred and steamed concoction after concoction and your calf muscles are long past the point of buckling, upon hearing that the canning marathon will stretch through the long weekend, the Large Large Smelly Boy will let out an honest-to-god whine and say, “You mean we won’t have the kitchen back for TWO MORE DAYS?”
–The morning after a canning marathon, you will need to take a warm shower to stand up straight.
–If you clean out the little black skillet (even though it’s in the marriage contract that it’s not your job) and put it on the lit stove to dry, you will forget about it while you scrub cucumbers (which is why it’s in the marriage contract that it’s not your job).
–Forgetting the little black skillet on the lit stove while you scrub cucumbers will set off every smoke detector in the house, which numbers 6.
–When you set off every smoke detector in the house, which numbers 6, blithely turn off the stove, open the back door, holler to one Large Smelly Boy to open windows, and let the rest of the family run around fetching foot stools and poking at blaring devices while you casually go back to scrubbing cucumbers.
–Even though you have sliced and diced a bazillion pounds of produce and stirred and steamed concoction after concoction and your calf muscles are long past the point of buckling, the Large Large Smelly Boy will waltz into the kitchen near the end of the extremely long marathon when you are ready for a deep sleep and to the tune of This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands will cheerfully sing, “Tomorrow we get the kitchen back, the kitchen back, the kitchen back. Tomorrow we get the kitchen back. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
–No matter how many times you measured and figured, and no matter how many times you went to a variety of stores, and no matter that your current first husband just got back from a store an hour earlier, you will run out of granulated sugar.
–You will rummage around in all the cupboards and the back of the car and in the picnic supplies and in that little tin cup on the top shelf until you scrounge up enough tiny packets of granulated sugar that you hope will be enough for the last batch.
–You will tell yourself that last scoop of granulated sugar is close enough.
–It’s not a very comfortable feeling to wonder whether you remembered to add canning salt to the last batch.
–No matter how many times you measured and figured, and no matter how many times you went to a variety of stores, you will run out of brown sugar and your current first husband will have to make another trip to the store.
–The last two batches of apple chutney will have to wait until your current first husband gets back from the store with more brown sugar, throwing you a little off which batch is what.
–It is never wise to measure out ground allspice above a cell phone.
–It is never wise to dump the entire mound of collected spices into the wrong batch, which already has its own entire mound of collected spices.
–You will scoop out all the spices as best you can plus some brown sugar and remind yourself to add a little extra sugar to that batch when your current first husband gets home with more.
–Later you will wonder whether you remembered to add the extra brown sugar.
–You will think, heaven help the poor blokes who win the crapshoot and get stuck with a little jar of love from one of the last two batches.
–Vow to never reveal this in public.