I come from a “canning” family, of which I am the only non-canner.
In my defense, where’s the motivation to can my own pickled peaches or apple butter or roasted jalapeno salsa when I get more than I can eat from family members who are way better at it than I am.
Half the time, when I call my mother, she’s elbow-deep in steaming mason jars wearing an apron splattered with sticky apricot residue. Even my Dad sends me a jar or two of his famous pickled beets, lovingly grown in his own garden. And toward the end of every August, my grandparents won’t let me leave their house without a glass jar of Grandpa’s famous strawberry refrigerator jam because they “accidentally made way too much.”
There’s something about canning that reminds me of collecting family lore. When you have a box of ripe fruit in front of you, the reason for preserving it is because it’s fresh right now. One more week, in some cases just one more day, and the fruit will be too far gone. So, you pull out your equipment and spend an afternoon capturing the flavor and the freshness (sampling as you go, of course) so that when winter comes you can pop the metal lid off a jar and enjoy the taste of summer-sweet blackberries off the vine or sunshiny lemon curd.
It sounds like an ordeal to someone who hasn’t tried it before, but once you’ve pickled a couple batches of memories it becomes easy, fun and even compulsive.
Here’s my simple recipe for Story Preserves:
A voice recorder, either a digital hand-held device or a recording app on your smart phone.
A story teller, usually a relative.
A set of open-ended questions (For suggestions, here’s my Story Time kit)
Blend ingredients until you learn something you never knew before about your family. Store at room temperature, usually as an MP3 file, on a thumb drive or backed-up hard drive where it will keep for 100 years or more.
Serve with coffee or tea.