My aunt had a friend who was famous in Eastern Ontario for her preserves. She won prizes at county fairs and even published two books. When my aunt and I would go to visit her, she always had some concoction cooking on the stove or waiting in jars or bottles on her counter. She must have had hundreds of jars of food, and she lived alone, so I had no idea who benefited from this bounty. When I would ask about this, my aunt would say pertly,” You do.” Certainly, we always brought something interesting back to my aunt’s home, but we never brought more than a jar or two. So where did all the other jars go?
One of the bottled items was brandied fruit. I remember this woman, whose name was Blanche, saying, ”If a person cannot make any other preserves, they can certainly preserve fruit in brandy.” As easy as this may be, I had never done it until this summer. Since I am going nowhere other than my own house or backyard, I have a lot of time to think about preserving and so I bought a bottle of cheap brandy, half-filled a beautiful jar with the liquor and started filling it with fruit. I put some strawberries, rhubarb, peaches and currants into the jar. Today I added blueberries and blackberries I found in a field.
I have not seen images of preserves on Facebook or Instagram the way there were images of bread in March and April. This surprises me since preserving seems similar to breadmaking. It is an ancient art, known to us since prehistory. The two are linked by fermentation, having originally relied on the yeasts we could capture wild from the atmosphere around us.
Any book on preserving worth its…salt…usually has a forward reminding us that preserving was necessary for the habitation of northern climates. When the world froze for a good part of the year, there had to be a way for humans to have food. Images of salted meat, pemmican, dried beans and fruit are the reminder of how our ancestors were able to survive. So why does no one else have a jar half filled with brandy and filling with fruit?
Why am I doing this? I am doing this for the same reason I am recommending that we should learn poetry again. Preserving and poetry and breadmaking bring us pleasures from a time that has passed.
The advent of COVID-19 has ushered in a new era and I need to know that we will be able to preserve some of the best parts of a world that is changing, likely forever.