Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! And to all of you who may not be American, here’s the general definition of our holiday I gave to Henri, my friend from Paris:
“Thanksgiving is the holiday where I get to tell all my friends how amazing they are, spend a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen, and eat way too much food. These are all good things to do every once in a while.”
I absolutely love coming home for holidays. My mom, dad, brother and I are all very close, and I love hanging out with them. We usually have Thanksgiving with just the four of us, and it’s nice to catch up (and get the first ski runs in!) We sit in front of the fire place and argue with the cat for the best chair, watch football, get the Christmas tree, and for Mom and I, knit a lot. Sometimes I even get some of my schoolwork done.
This year Mom and I spent the first two days of break canning apple goods. A family friend had an apple tree go crazy this year, so we inherited 12 pounds of apples. We make apple butter almost every year, and this year we also made applesauce. (For anyone who’s curious about the recipes, we use Ball’s Blue Book. Ball also has an awesome online repository of recipes.)
Canning and preserving might seem like a lot of work or something that’s beyond you. If you go on the internet, a lot of recipes call for gadgets that most home cooks don’t have. But water bath canning (or heat canning) is remarkably simple. This kind of canning is good for anything acidic: fruit or anything pickled are good examples. When I can with my friends, I don’t have any of the special gadgets my mom does. Here’s what you need in order to can at home:
- Any giant pot. It has to be deep enough to have an inch of water above the top of the cans. I can’t use the big pint jars if I’m canning with my pot, so I just use the 8 oz jars instead. If I want to use pint jars, I come home and use Mom’s pot.
- Some craft wire. I coil mine into a spiral and put it at the bottom of the pan to raise the cans just a bit. Mom has a rack that fits her pot, but the craft wire works just as well and actually is shorter so you can use a smaller pot. The goal is to avoid having the jars directly on the bottom of the pan, because then the bubbles of water vapor can cause the jars to rattle and shatter. Yeah, I’ve done that. It’s a mess.
- A fork. There are really cool magnetic things that help you pick up the flats and rounds, but it is totally doable with a fork.
- Tongs. The bigger the better, and if they’re rubber that’s the best. There are special jar-grabbing tongs that are awesome, but with a steady hand you can use regular tongs too.
- The cans, rounds, and flats. This is probably something you will have to acquire, but most grocery stores carry them in the baking aisle. Make sure you have the flat part of the lid (the flats) and the round screw-on part of the lid (the rounds). The flats are the only things that aren’t reusable (so long as you don’t give all your jars away…)
My only pieces of advice beyond that: follow the recipe carefully, do it with friends, and be patient while you wait for the jars to seal. It’s so tempting to push on the flats so they make that popping sound, but don’t do it! Just don’t!
I love canning with my mom for a million reasons. It makes me feel like a character out of the Little House series. I like getting to spend time with Mom, chatting about this and that and everything. I love using our food mill; it was my great-grandmother’s and it makes me feel connected to my family history. Canning also makes me feel more connected with the earth, the seasons, and my food. I like knowing where my apples came from, and I like knowing that I’m living more in tune with when certain products are available. I’ll eat apples all year long, but preserving is a good reminder that we wouldn’t have apples all year if not for modern transport. And beyond all of that, I love how good the house smells for hours!
And in several months, I’ll still be eating and sharing the fruits of our labors. Earlier in fall, Mom and I typically can currant jelly, peach jam, and sometimes we experiment with other fruits. I’ve taught a handful of friends how to can; we like to make strawberry-lemon marmalade for PB&J sandwiches and blueberry jam for scones. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than opening a jar of golden peach jam in February when it’s dark and cold. Peach jam is summertime in a jar.
I’ve also been knitting this break! I’m working on a pair of yoga socks for my yoga teacher and friend, Maggie. These are by far the easiest socks anyone can make, because you skip the heel and the toe! I’m using a pink and purple and gray yarn, and I’m really pleased with how they came out.
For me, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to knit. (OK, let me be perfectly clear. Any time is a good time to knit. I’m addicted.) I’ve never actually knitted anything for myself; I’ve given all my projects to important people in my life. When I knit, I try to make every stitch a promise, a hope, and a wish for good things. It’s something I truly enjoy doing, and it’s a good way for me to tell someone how much I care about them without having to deal with all the awkwardness of actually conversing. Since I am so deeply grateful for the incredible people I have in my life, knitting over Thanksgiving break fits right into the mood.
I’m also giggling a bit to myself as I write this today because this post is a fabulous example of how different parts of me twist together in interesting ways. I love coming home (hobbit) in part because I get to go skiing and hiking through the woods to find a Christmas tree (adventurer). I spent all break knitting (old lady) yoga socks (adventurer again). Adventuring requires energy and bravery and spontaneity, while being an old-lady-hobbit is nourishing and rejuvenating. Perhaps they aren’t so unrelated after all.
Your homework for this week: how do you spend your breaks? Do you go on crazy adventures, cozy up at home, or some combination of the two? How do you feel connected to your most important people?
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Thank you for reading, for thinking, and in general for being good people. You make the world better, and that’s something to appreciate.