Monday, September 29, 2008
Returning to my Roots
Do fruit rooms exist outside of Mormon culture? Do other people have an entire room in their home devoted to food storage? Going down to the fruit room to retrieve a bottle or a can of produce used to scare me as a child. I would obediently head down the stairs into the recesses of our home, passing through a semi-dark, underused room, to the outer darkness of the storage room. One of the reasons it was so scary is that I had to step into total darkness and fish my hand around for the dangling string to pull the light on. Even with the light on, I imagined spiders and rats lurking. And when I was very young, I had an irrational fear that the three bears lived under the stairs, the fear never quite left me. Since I grew up during the cold war, I was quite certain that at some point, our entire family would be forced to live in the small narrow room to survive. I imagined that I would play with the elf Christmas ornaments with small styrofoarm heads and colorful costumes for entertainment.
Growing up I took the bottles of fruit the room contained, mostly peaches, pears, and grape jelly, for granted. I do remember my mom bottling and I have a vague memory of helping out, but not too much. My most firm memory of the event that took place was my mom pouring parafin over the small jars of jelly.
So when I got married, I thought bottling was pretty much a given. It was Ruth (pictured above) my mother-in-law who really taught me the how-tos. Our first apartment was in the same town--Tremonton. She was generous with her help and I don't think she even kept any of the fruit--maybe a bottle or two. But before our youngest was even five years old, I'd pretty much given it up. I found the whole task beneath me. We still dried a few batches of fruit, but I quit bottling. Besides someone figured out that like many good things the time expended and the cost per bottle wasn't worth the effort when you could buy an entire case for X number of dollars.
Recently, I was on a hike with some friends, and one of the women was talking about bottling and I suddenly wanted to do it, but feared I was too late. Then I remembered that my good friend Josi Kilpack loves bottling. Josi is almost young enough to be my daughter, and is about five novels ahead of me on her published writing, and has twice as many kids as I had when I gave it all up--and even with all that, she LOVES bottling fruit--especially peaches. So I emailed Josi and asked if peaches were still available. She lives near the fruit loop. If you don't know what the fruit loop is then you don't live in Northern Utah. Anyway, she said, "Probably, but hurry." So I had my husband buy some--he works near the fruit loop and I was set.
First though, I had to find everything that I hadn't used in nearly two decades--canner--found it buried under the box of Halloween costumes, bottles--two boxes were in the garage, packed along in our last three moves, and one box in the new storage room where they ought to be. And I'm pretty sure I tossed some, and recycled a few. Finally the rings--dug them out of my pottery studio where I used them for cutting out clay with school children, and last a trip to the store to buy the lids. Finally I was set and few hours later and a life time of flooding memories you see the result--21 bottles of peaches, 8 pts. of peach jam (which didn't really set), and some left over to eat. And now I'm ready to tackle salsa, tomatoes, elderberry jam and juice, current jam and so forth. It's funny I gave up bottling because I thought I was too modern to be confined to convention and now I found the process so enjoyable, so . . . what's the word--liberating.