Tiny Jars of Opportunity

Sparkling jars wait to be filled.

Our kitchen has become a science lab.

Sparkling clean jars cover the island and practically every horizontal surface in our kitchen.  Recipe books, torn pages from magazines, and every mobile device I own are piled upon the breakfast table.  Music blares as I dance around the kitchen singing along — off-key.  It’s canning season.

In the last three years, I’ve become a canning fiend.  Technically, I learned how to can in my mother’s kitchen.  Learning to can was the same as learning to cook — we were expected to learn how.  My sister excelled at helping Mom can.  I just tried to help where I could, but mostly I stayed out of their way.  They had a natural rhythm that worked.  Besides, I recognized when there are one too many cooks in the kitchen.  Once my contributions to their efforts were finished, I went and folded laundry.

Fast forward a lifetime.  My sister became a high school home economics teacher then a celebrated 4-H agent for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, and then she was recruited to become a home economist for Purdue University Cooperative Extension.  I still preferred to fold laundry.

When my sister and her husband moved back to Kentucky, she and my mother began canning together again.  I admired their industriousness and gladly returned to Murray with a few of their deliciously-filled jars.

When my mother died, I didn’t grieve.  Cancer had stolen her voice and her quality of life.  She simply wanted peace and to reunite with Daddy, who was waiting for her.  She well-prepared me for what was coming, and I couldn’t be so selfish as to want her to live on in pain.  So when the day finally came, I was at peace with her death.  Until eight months later — when I found cucumbers at our farmer’s market.

I became obsessed with the possibility of making bread-and-butter pickles.  After thousands of phone calls to my patient and slightly surprised sister, I proudly displayed my first batch on Facebook.  Seven pint-sized jars from my grandmother’s recipe.  A few weeks later, during the dog-days of August, I shocked my sister again by offering to come home and help with her canning.  Together with our husbands, we spent the weekend chopping, slicing, and julienning our way through bushels of produce.  I expected to feel like there was one too many cooks again.  But I didn’t.  I expected to get over my nostalgia.  I didn’t.  It was fun and it felt completely natural.

This was about the time we started eliminating processed foods.  I realized that by canning, I could better control the content of our diet.  The more we eliminated, the braver I became in my canning attempts.  By the next summer, I was canning nearly every weekend, and I didn’t kill anybody with my efforts.  I’d call my sister and tell her what I had found at the Farmer’s Market.  She’d tell me what to do with it.  Once she realized that I truly had the bug, she made it her mission to get me well-supplied with canning gear.  That Christmas she loaded me up with cookbooks, tools, and a churn for making sweet pickles.  Best. Christmas. Ever.

Now every Saturday morning when my beloved and I head to the farmer’s market, I’m giddy with excitement to find my next canning project.  When we built our new kitchen, every element was considered for its ability to make canning easier or more productive.  My happiest days are spent in this kitchen canning with Van Morrison providing the sound track.

Today, I made Herb de Provence jelly using herbs from our garden.  I’ve never made jelly, because we prefer preserves.  But when I saw this recipe, I had to try it.  I decided to use wine as the base instead of apple cider.  It just made sense.  I went to Roof Brothers and bought three different chardonnays, including an organic wine and a local Kentucky wine, to experiment.  Because my sister isn’t a drinker, she couldn’t advise me on which wine to choose.  So I tweeted Mrs. Wheelbarrow, who told me to “use what I love” #asJuliawouldsay.  I love chardonnay, so I bought six bottles.  After all, this was a science experiment.

Herbs de Provence Wine Jelly

Quart jars stand by to strain the infused wine.

In steel pans, I placed 2 Tbsp herbs (oregano, basil, lavender, tarragon, thyme, chives, and summer savory) into 2 cups of wine then let each pot come to a boil.  Then I turned off the heat and covered with a lid.  I let each pot set for 20 minutes.  I then placed old dishcloths over quart jars with plenty of slack, using rubber bands to hold the cloth in place.  Then I drained the herbs and wine into the quart jars.  The wine was strained by the dishcloth, and the slack was just enough to hold the herbs.  I let the wine drain for 20 minutes.  One wine appeared cloudy.  The others had perfect clarity and gorgeous color.  Those were the two that I proceeded with.

I emptied the strained wine into another steel pan and stirred in 2 cups of sugar.  With the organic wine, I used organic, unbleached sugar, which deepened the color.  With the non-organic wine, I used bleached refined sugar, so that mixture retained its golden chardonnay hue.  Once it began a hard boil, I added 3 ounces liquid pectin and set the timer to 2 minutes.  When the timer went off, I removed the pan from the stove and filled my jars.  After a trip through a 10-minute water bath, I anxiously waited for the results.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Rich in color, clear as a cloudless day, and full of savory and sweetness, my Herb de Provence jelly is a success.  I can’t wait to make more!


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