Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ma Kettle Style

Quite a while ago, I was in the middle of standing over a hot stove, canning and blanching and boiling.  My phone rang.  On the other line was a dear friend.
"What are you doing?" She asked, "Do you have time to talk?"
"Oh yeah," I said, balancing the phone on one ear and topping hot jars with hot lids, "I'm just canning."
"Whoa."  Her voice was suddenly serious, "Aren't you afraid you're going to die?"
I laughed, "Die?  What are you talking about?"
"I refuse to can," she confessed, "I'm deathly afraid one of the jars will burst the minute I put it in the hot water bath and a shard of glass will slice my jugular."
I laughed even harder.  Hearing people's craziest fears is one of my joys in life.  I once met a girl who refused to drive behind people who were smoking because she knew -she just KNEW -that one day they would drop their hot ciggy bud on the asphalt and it would bounce right up into her engine thus making her own car EXPLODE.
I have a few crazy fears: one involves a snake I'm sure is hiding somewhere in the piping behind the throne in my powder room.  The other is that one day the train barriers are going to malfunction and I'm going to ignorantly drive straight into the pathway of an oncoming locomotive.


I actually HAVE had jars burst while I've canned.  I was thinking of them yesterday as I stood over a hot stove and canned two batches of ketchup.  We haven't had hardly any tomatoes this year.
This year, my husband and I have scavenged our garden for any HINT of tomatoes.  They are so scarce that I've promised Heavenly Father over and over, "I'll never complain about canning tomatoes again -I've learned my lesson."
Our cherry tomatoes have done just fine, so we combined them with our meager full-sized tomato harvest and by some MIRACLE were able to make 2 whole batches of ketchup (I can normally make 5 or 6 at least).
Not one jar burst.
I've wised up since my jar-bursting years.

Since I've been married, I've always had a small kitchen.  Canning has always been a cramped sort of ordeal, and keeping my jars hot to prepare them for the hot water bath had always been a trial.
One stove top burner was being used for my canner.
One was being used to boil lids.
One was being used to boil whatever it was I was making (jam, ketchup, salsa, and on and on).
One was being used to keep jars hot.

It really didn't work at all.  Jars burst all over the place and I lost so many diced tomatoes in those days.

Along the way, I've learned a few trickies.  I boil water in my microwave in a bowl and heat my lids up in that instead of on the stove top.  It works like magic.
And I preheat my oven to WARM and set my clean jars on a cookie sheet.  They're always hot and ready when I need them.
I haven't lost a jar in ages.

I thought about that yesterday as I filled my hot jars with hot ketchup and put them in the hot water bath.  
I recently read a talk by Neal A. Maxwell in which he says that life is tutorial in nature.  Life lessons are found just about everywhere... even, I've found, in canning and preserving.
While blanching and freezing corn earlier this harvest season, my kids were appalled at the amount of worms they kept finding as they husked corn.  They squealed and jumped and whined and beat the corn against the giant black trash bag I'd set out for them to use.
"The worms only bother the sweetest ears of corn," I said, and then chuckled because I sounded exactly like Ma Kettle giving advice to a bullied child.

And how's this for Ma Kettle advice?
"If you put a cold jar in hot water, it'll crack under pressure."

I can't force my "cold" husband into the hot waters of recovery because he isn't ready.
I couldn't force my (STONE) cold heart into recovery before it was ready.
And you can't send children into the world without putting them in a hypothetical oven all their life -warm them up and prepare them for the hot water of reality.

Right now, I'm stuck on Step 4.
I picked an abundance of cherry tomatoes earlier this week and then fell sick.  While I blew snot on the couch, the tomatoes rotted.  I knew they were rotting.  But I didn't bother to lift the lid of the box they were in...  the guilt of not taking care of them would overwhelm me.
So I let them sit.
And sit.
And yesterday, I armed myself with two pairs of food-service gloves and I delved into the box.  I sifted through the slime and mold and fruit flies.  I held my pregnant breath -the one whose ability to smell has been so wonderfully enhanced.
I picked the firm, juicy beautiful red cherry tomatoes out of a watery rotting pile.
It was a physical representation of Step 4... facing the rotting parts in our box of life, pulling out the good from the bad.
The good went on to become two delicious batches of homemade ketchup.  They were juiced, boiled, mixed with other ingredients, and ladled into prepared, waiting hot jars.
When they entered the hot water, they were ready. They took it like champs.
They came out all shiny and wonderful and gleamy.  Their lids popped and sealed, and I sat back feeling something like the Queen of Sheba.
Despite the fact that my nose was puffy and red from blowing (still sick, still sick).
I think it's time. It's time to DO my Step 4.
And as always: it's time to be patient with my husband's personal jar-warming process.  I'm seeing my desire for him to get into the water clearly now... I want to push the issue, much like I did a few years ago when I canned.  I can push the issue and watch jars explode all over the place.
I can watch him at work, see if his own recovery attempts -though different from mine -will be enough to prepare him for the hot waters of recovery.
In the meantime, I'll get my Ma Kettle on and bake a few loaves of bread.

(My go-to wheat bread recipe that is always eaten in it's entirety within a few hours of coming out of the oven.)
It's getting really chilly out there, and nothing warms the soul like homemade wheat bread topped with butter and honey.
If you're feeling the effects of fall, do yourself a favor:
Fill your crock pot with apple juice and toss in handful (or two if you're a bad arse) of red hots (or cinnamon rounds, whatever they're calling them these days). Turn the heat to high and let your house fill with the scents of autumn.  After a few hours and a few stirring sessions, you'll have yourself a hot crock of apple cider.
And a happy soul.
Trust me on this.


  1. Warmth to my soul:) I love your stories and analogies. I have never canned, so I can't relate, but now I want to can after reading this post.

    I am stuck on Step 4 as well. Thanks for the motivation!

    Love this thought...

    "I picked the firm, juicy beautiful red cherry tomatoes out of a watery rotting pile.
    It was a physical representation of Step 4... facing the rotting parts in our box of life, pulling out the good from the bad."

    I can relate to rotting zucchini. That was my over abundance this year. I wanted to make zucchini bread, but wasn't feeling it, so I let several of them rot. A few small ones I salvaged and used for zucchini fries.

    So far my inventory has been a depressing task. It's been all bad! I need to start thinking of the good parts of my life, to balance the scales.

    Your timing of this post is perfect:)

    1. Step Four has been tricky for me (especially since I remember every little thing that has pained me or I've done wrong since I was stinking five years old). I wrote the longest more detailed inventory ever and then sat it aside and ignored it because it was so overwhelming. As time has gone on, the Lord has gently taught me what matters and what doesn't -what I need to learn from it and what I don't.
      It's humbling, and I think I'm ready to go with it all.

      And I'm jealous of your zucchini. We didn't get that many this year, and I'm pining for everything zucchini. I feel a little cheated that we didn't get a billion like we usually do :) Doesn't my garden know how hungry I am?!

      Good luck with your Step 4! It seems daunting!

  2. I love your analogy of the hot/cold jars. Good stuff. Good luck with step four! It's a beast, but you'll feel sooooo good when it's done. :)

    PS My husband started his step four on Saturday. It's scary thinking about what HE is writing down.