I think, all of a sudden, I'm afraid to blog. I've been thinking a lot, lately, about writing---what makes good writing, what the point is behind it, my own dedication to it. Plus there was a strange comment I got, from a complete stranger, hinting at the inanity and thoughtlessness of my blog---not the cruel sort of thoughtlessness, just the rambling, stupid, pointless kind. I think I'll save my response to that comment for another day when I'm feeling more snarky. So, today's entry is me just taking a deep breath and trying not to be afraid, trying not to worry about inanity, trying to talk myself into believing my ideas carry any weight.
But, ironically, I'm writing about a topic most people don't think even once about: home canning. Personal preparedness and provident living are a big deal in Utah culture. Many families can food, from peaches to salsa to green beans. I grew up in a canning household. As late summer rolled around, we'd can beans, tomatoes, salsa, and beets. Sometimes we did peaches and, one remarkable fall, apples with cinnamon for pies. Once we bottled pinto beans and honestly, I don't think any refried beans have lived up to them ever since. These are some of my strongest childhood memories, perhaps because they are so sensory: the kitchen, stifling hot, with its moist air and whistling pressure cooker; sliding the papery skin of the green beans through my hands into jars; piled into bushel baskets, the fresh, dusty tomatoes had a scent that still makes me think of marigolds. And then there was the burning process of making fresh salsa, the onion tears and stinging jalapeno fingertips. I can't say I really enjoyed canning, although I wonder if my older sisters' complaints tainted my experience. What I remember most clearly, even more sharply than those sensory images, is the best part of canning: writing the date on the top of the hot jar lids with a crayon and feeling the oily slip as the crayon melted as it wrote.
Of course, canning as a child taught me many things, perseverance, the value of good, hard work, the way that summer can come sliding out of a jar in the middle of coldest February. But the lessons must have not sunk in too deeply, because, although I make a fairly delicious raspberry-peach freezer jam, I confess: I am not a canner.
I did try. Back before Kendell and I had kids, I dutifully put up green beans and salsa and jams sealed with wax. I bought Mason jars by the boxful; I had lovely white shelves filled with transparent colored jars. I lined up the bottles, admired my work---and closed the storage room door. We never ate a bite.
For years, I've felt thoroughly guilty about my failure as a Home Canning Priestess. I didn't feel I was living up to all that was expected of me. I'd failed, obviously, at self reliance, because I rely on Del Monte for my peaches, S&W for my tomatoes, and Costco for my salsa. It felt like a personal failure, added to the pile of all the other things I don't do so well. In a way, this failure came out of selfishness. Honestly, I'd rather wander through a forest in late summer than swelter in my kitchen. I'd rather read a book than stuff beans in a jar. And, despite what I know about how much healthier freshly-canned food is, I'd really rather just take the lazy route and buy canned goods at the grocery store.
But it also comes from a place of self doubt. I think home canning requires an extraordinary amount of self confidence. An amount I, honestly, don't possess. I don't feel confident in my ability to preserve fruits and vegetables so that no one ends up with botulism in the process. I think everyone would be happier if I could suddenly morph into that Home Canning Priestess, because she is so capable. Not only can she bottle tomatoes, salsa, peaches, pears, apples, and even pinto beans, she does everything else well, too. Really, Home Canning Priestess is only one of her nick names. Her true title is Homemaking Goddess. Oh, if only I could be that woman, the one whose home is always clean and organized, whose laundry is always finished, who doesn't have fingerprints on her walls or a disorganized garage or crumbs in the baby's car seat. She cleans out her garbage can once a week after the garbage truck dumps it, she never serves tater-tot casserole, and home canning? All in a day's work.
But then I taught a lesson, a few months ago, about being self reliant, and this idea stuck with me. President Kimball taught that self reliance is a combination of "the husbanding of our resources, the wise planning of financial matters, full provision for personal health, and adequate preparation for education and career development, giving appropriate attention to home food production and storage as well as the development of emotional resiliency." I encouraged a lot of discussion about that last bit: the development of emotional resiliency. I realized that, for me, self reliance is never going to come from standing in front of a pressure cooker or running tomatoes through a juicer. It will only come when I finally am able to develop that emotional resiliency---part of which, in my mind, has to do with living without the burden of unnecessary guilt.
A few weeks ago, while we reorganized our household, I pulled all those canning bottles out of my storage room. Most of them were empty, anyway, and taking up precious storage space. I ran the thirteen-year-old salsa down the garbage disposal. The beans, too. I gave all my empty jars to a friend down the street who does can. As I did this, I thought about emotional resiliency, how unnecessary guilt has this way of making me emotionally brittle, like a frozen rubber band. Maybe canning isn't only about being self reliant, I thought. Maybe it's also a symbol, a thing that illustrates the kind of person we are. What type of Goddess can I really become? It is starting to be enough for me to just say: I will never be the Homemaking Goddess. The contemporary Demeter is a mask I try to wear, but it will never fit me comfortably. I have to believe that God loves me for who I am and not for how successfully I wear masks. Instead, I found myself coming back, over and over, to that memory of my childhood self, writing in purple crayon that melted as it wrote. Canning will never be a work I am able to lose myself in. But hopefully, the works I can melt into will be enough.