Most days on a farm are a relaxed kind of hectic. I know. That sounds weird. But unless there is a major problem, you can take your time getting things on your list of things to do. Once animals have been fed and watered, you can look around and see what takes priority. Weeding the garden. Mowing the grass. Cleaning out the chicken coop. Repairing or building new fence. Although it all has to be done, you can schedule your week accordingly, and maybe still have time to do a load of laundry or two.
And then the garden begins to turn. You go to sleep one night to one little ol’ cucumber blossom, and wake up the next morning to loaded crops of squash, peppers, cucumber, snap beans and tomatoes – all that have to be picked and preserved, right now. From the moment your first vegetable turns ripe, you find yourself harvesting with your right hand and pulling weeds with your left one, just so both jobs get done. Once the first harvest is done, you take everything inside and begin the process of preserving. It’s a lot like watching a horse race. For a while, you watch the horses and jockeys just standing around, doing not much of anything. Next thing you know, you are sitting on the edge of your seat as the bell rings and the magnificent beasts are racing around the oval, headed to the finish line.
The first basket loads come into the kitchen and are dumped in the sink. Everything needs to be washed. Water needs to be boiled for the jars. You slice. You dice. You wash. You snap. Then you repeat. For roughly the next 90 days, you repeat the process. The last thing you do each day is set up for the next day’s canning, wipe the counters and work area with bleach, and drop into bed in an exhausted heap. A shower has never felt so good, not only from the hot water that eases your sore muscles, but also because it means you can stand still for approximately 10 minutes. Early the next morning, you feed the animals and step back into the garden with empty baskets and leave it a bit later with the baskets full to overflowing.
During canning season, you aren’t allowed to think about anything other than measurements, canning safety precautions and whether the pressure canner is staying at 10 pounds of pressure. You simultaneous watch the clock and your fingers that are precariously close to that knife you just sharpened for the third time that day. The smell of vinegar boiling and the onions you are chopping waters your eyes to the point of blindness. You wonder what kind of crazy you were hit with to make you want to double your rows of cucumbers and squash. Thank goodness for that vintage recipe for sweet pickles that means they have to steep for several days before you can them. That will give you time to get the squash put up, the peppers cut and frozen, the tomato sauce cooking, the okra prepped…
And then the day comes. The last jar is out of the water. The lids are all sealed properly. The shelves are lined with glistening jars that range in color from pink to red, yellow to gold, green, orange, and the pale buff of jars of pear halves. You have enough of everything to last you until your next harvest, with a few extras, such as peach pie filling and candied jalapenos for those last minute guests. This year, you managed to make extra jams, jellies and salsas that will end up being great Christmas gifts. You step back. Take a deep breath. Then slowly let it out, allowing a deep contentment to spread throughout your entire body, mind and soul. And you are so glad that you are finally finished with all of it, and consider maybe giving it up next year, as it really is ‘too much work’.
It’s amazing how all that work seems to fade in your mind each night over the fall and winter, as you sit down to a meal prepared with all that delicious produce. Around the end of November, as you open a jar of jelly, you find yourself wondering if you could successfully grow strawberries along the edge of the garden. As you stir the pot of snap beans, you think about that article you read that said that one strain of heirloom snaps was the best bean around. Maybe order some and do some comparison?
By April, the memory of all that hot, heavy, hard work of last year’s harvest has long since passed from your memory. The thought of whether or not those few jars of beans on the shelf will be enough to hold you over until the garden starts coming in starts to weigh heavy. You start looking forward to the flavor of that first juicy tomato. And before you know it, the starting bell has rung again, the race is on, and we find ourselves watching not only the clock, but also the calendar to see how many more days the garden can possibly produce this prolifically.
Gotta run. I have five minutes left on the pressure canner, and I am about ten beans short of a jar. I have barely enough time to get to the garden and back…oh. Rats. I forgot about that basket of lemon squash…