Late at night.
A car door slams. The sound of running feet, followed by a thump on porch and running feet again. The car speeds away.
A light flashes on in the house. The front door opens, and a wail of despair as the resident sees what the vandal has done.
It’s that time of year, when people with gardens are desperately trying to deal with nature’s bounty. It’s always feast or famine with a garden – decide that, by God, this year you’re going to get tomatoes, and plant a dozen, and it becomes a bumper year for tomatoes and you’re drowning in the things. Plus, since all your neighbors did the same thing, not only do they not want your tomatoes, but they’re trying to give you theirs.
This year, for example, is thus far a rotten one for tomatoes, what with a cold, wet spring, broiling hot temperatures, and now more rain. On the other hand, it was a fabulous year for apricots. My two trees end up bearing maybe once every three or four years. Typically an ill-timed frost murders the little darlings. But when it bears, does it bear. It is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice of fuzzy golden balls. Unfortunately, everyone else’s trees are doing the same.
Can them, everyone says. Make jam, make butter, make pie filling.
There’s a couple of problems with this approach. First is that the time of year when the garden is exploding is typically the time of year when the thermometer is exploding as well. Yes, when it’s 105 out is just the time you want to be peeling fruit, stirring a batch of jam, and hunched over 20 gallons of boiling water to sterilize jars – because if you don’t sterilize them properly you will DIE YES DIE AND TAKE YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY WITH YOU.
Which is the other factor that’s put me off canning. Yes, the ward house across the street has canning classes and I’m invited to attend whenever I like, but I’ve been in the place before where it’s just me and twenty pounds of peaches facing off across a kitchen table and it’s not a position I like to be in. One of the best Christmas presents I’d ever gotten was from a couple of friends who invited me over to make a variety of marmalades from their lemon tree. Sadly, I didn’t know a similar group here.
I’ve discovered, however, a couple of ways to deal with the problem.
The first is Craigslist. A couple of years ago, when I had a surfeit of quince, I offered to anyone that they could have my quince; all I asked for in return was some of what they had made. I ended up with a jar of apple-quince sauce and a slab of quince paste (which at this point could be used to repair the roof, but never mind).
Apricots, however, are more in demand than quince. I made the same offer this year, and several people jumped on it. I’d gotten three jars of jam already, when I heard back from another person, who had gathered more than 60 pounds of apricots from my two trees. I ended up with a carton full of jars of jams, nectars, pie fillings — and a jar of plum jelly for good measure.
The best part, though, was discovering that this person represented a group. Turns out they’d been looking for an opportunity to gather a whole lot of fruit and have a marathon canning session like this, and were looking forward to doing it again — and would be fine with having another person join in future sessions. Upon hearing this, another couple volunteered, adding that tthey had both plum and peach trees.
I can hardly wait.