This year’s long, wet spring has finally relinquished its hold. After a few weeks of summer weather Vancouver’s Lower Mainland is enjoying the full diversity of summer produce and the opportunity to eat something fresh other than leafy greens. I’m hoping that the late start won’t lessen the harvest and that there are many more weekends of canning ahead. Speaking of, I must remember to stock up on jars and lids.—SJ, M+P
Nothing heralds summer like small mountains of fruit and boxes of jars that take over the kitchen and fill you with anticipation and anxiety in equal measure. This is canning season.
The canning projects started slowly and unobtrusively this year. A few pounds of rhubarb sat patiently in the fridge for a week while I deliberated over stewing, freezing, or jamming. When I finally committed to strawberry-rhubarb jam I had the added bonus of using the final container of last year’s frozen strawberries, thereby making room for this year’s berry glut. How efficient, how effortless canning can be, I thought to myself.
The blueberry butter was even easier. Since I refuse to buy the season’s fresh berries when there’s still a cache of last year’s fruit in the freezer (and since I can’t not buy those beautiful fresh berries at the farmers’ market) I had to find a quick way of moving about nine cups of blues. Into the slow cooker with some cinnamon and lemon juice one weekend morning and blueberry butter miraculously emerged later that day.
It was with these gourmet affirmations behind me that I took on the cherries: ten pounds of sweet Skeena cherries and three pounds of sour Hungarian cherries over two days. Somewhat more effort would be needed for this endeavour. This is canning season.
With unaccustomed foresight I had picked up a cherry pitter a few months ago when there was rain, rain, and more rain and the summer harvest seemed an unlikely happening. The pitter tore through those giant, swollen Skeena cherries, their skins split from a heavy rain (and only $2 a pound). I took an unexpected pleasure in the cherry splatter that covered the white enamel of my sink. It’s the creative mess that precedes all great things.
That first day of cherry work produced sweet cherry preserves, balsamic pepper cherry preserves (on brie, oh yes), and Chinese 5-spice pickled cherries (thank you Leena Eats). Losing a jar to the canner in the last round of the day only seemed like a necessary sacrifice.
The second day was about the two most important gastronomic creations, pie and fruited liqueur. Not necessarily in that order, except when pie is breakfast.
Because I’m incapable of deferring all cherry gratification I had to make something that required immediate consumption. Pie, for me, is the celebration of fruit as it is meant to be eaten. But as with any new recipe, making a cherry pie for the first time is a gamble. The filling is key to the flavour and function of the pie. I should have seen the red flag waving when I read a pie-filling recipe that did not require cooking before it filled the crust. At first glance the cooked pie was the picture of domestic achievement, a golden brown lattice of flaky pastry over luscious sour cherries…swimming in a sea of pink liquid. Never before have I used a turkey baster to help save baked goods. After siphoning out over a cup of runny, cloudy pinkness (cherry water, cornstarch, and butter) I had a salvaged pastry consisting of loose, whole cherries rolling like marbles inside a pastry prison. Edible, to be sure, just not pie.
I hold out hope for the success of the cherry booze. Its great reveal is four months away, but not much can go wrong. One jar of cherries in vodka and another of cherries in bourbon sit in a dark cupboard and enjoy their daily tip and shake. By the time I get to share and enjoy these deep red concoctions—as sippers, Manhattans, and possibly over custard—canning season will be long over and their making tied to a distant summer memory. I could get sentimental but there’s just too much preserving work to do.