Remind me again: Why do I do this?








Yesterday I did not cry over spilled milk.

Or spilled cream.

Come to think of it, I did not cry over the spilled yogurt, salt, vinegar, bone broth, or tea that also found their way onto my once clean counters, floor, and the inside of our refrigerator yesterday. (Those spills I handled with varying degrees of grace.)

I did, however, cry over the spoonful of ghee that spilled directly into my pickling brine. The brine that I made from the very last of my apple cider vinegar.

Poor kid. He was just trying to make quesidillas. It was simply poor planning that his path with the dripping spoon when directly over my simmering pot.

I had to leave the kitchen.

I threw myself face down on my bed and shed a few tears, then collected myself and returned to start the brine again (with the white vinegar I keep on hand for cleaning).

But really I wasn't crying over spilled ghee as much ans I was crying over the overwhelming size of the bushel of green beans in my kitchen (a full sized cooler filled right to the top) and the shadow of a second bushel looming on the front porch. 

So I had a little cry and got back in the game canning pound after pound of dilly beans and wasabi beans for the fall and winter.

I was overwhelmed.

And could have used a little perspective. My friend Mary for example cans thousands – literally tens of thousands – of quarts of food each summer. She showed me her pantry once and I was speechless.

She is feeding herself, her husband, and their seven boys. Mary is Amish and therefore she does this work without electricity over a woodstove in their kitchen – regardless of the temperature outside. She washes her thousands of jars without consistently running water and does her clean up by heating water on the woodstove.

(As an aside she once referred to herself as "lazy" to me in conversation because of a modest shortcut she takes when canning pickles. I almost fell off my chair.)

Mary's family survives on the food she puts by. Canned produce, root cellar veggies, pantry staples, and dairy from their cows feeds them all winter.

So how can I complain about a little work with a box of beans yesterday?

But hard work is hard work, regardless of who's doing more. When I forget about the work my friend does for a moment, canning almost 30 pounds of beans is serious. Heck, canning 30 pounds of anything is a big deal.

But unlike my friend I have a chest freezer. A refrigerator. Air conditioning. I've got a pretty cushy life here. I don't need canned beans in my pantry for the survival of my family.

Dilly beans won't save us if things start to fall apart.

And on days like yesterday when I feel overwhelmed by the choices I have made I wonder: why am I doing this?

Because when I am not in my flow canning the abundance of the season feels a lot like whacking my head against the counter.


But then it happens.

The jars begin to line up in long steaming rows on the towel.

And all of a sudden I can measure my success. The cooler of beans begins to empty and the counter of jars begins to fill.

And in that moment I remembered why I was doing this.

Because I can. (No pun intended.)

Because my hard work now feeds us – in part at least – throughout the year.

Because I would rather eat one jar of homemade dilly beans that 100 jars of store bought. Because these beans have soul.

Because I planted seeds and harvested fruit (or in this case connected with a farmer doing that work, the hardworking friend mentioned above in fact) and made brine and packed jars and put food by. To feed my family all through the year.

And there is something deeply satisfying in that work. At least when I shake off the overwhelmed sensation and connect with the spiritual side of my efforts.

Because be it one jar or ten thousand, putting food by feeds more than just our bodies. It's big work, but it's important work as well.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

In closing, this may be my favorite photo from the day.

The tidy and photogenic jar on the right was in the first round that went into the canner. The wild and messy jar on the left was in the fourth round. The jar on the left was filled when I reached the "Dear God, just let this be done!" phase of the project.

They'll both taste amazing, but filling that jar on the left took 1/10 the time. I think Mary would go for the messy jar, yet judge herself and being "lazy".

As for me, I'm not lazy. I'm wisely budgeting my energy.

Aesthetics be damned! The beans are done.




24 thoughts on “Remind me again: Why do I do this?

  1. Marlo says:

    I love this post. My favorite part is when you say you handled the spills with varying degrees of grace. That’s awesome. Sometimes I just want to go lay down and cry as well. We’re only human, right? Your beans look delicious.

  2. margaret b. says:

    I nearly cried along with you reading this, and then feasted my eyes on all those lovely cans of beans (on which you & your family will literally feast all through the coming fall and winter…) Bravo!

  3. Christa says:

    Oh man, I know exactly how you feel. Every time I’m knee deep in a bushel of anything and it’s just too hot out and just too late in the night and I’m just too tired and my back hurts and I’m doing it anyway, I grumble through it. And then I tell myself to shut up and do it anyway. I remember that I chose this and like your friend some people don’t have it as a choice. It’s over before I know it, and come February when I crack open a jar of tomato sauce that I know I made with my own labor and I smell the smell of that hot summer day all bottled up in a jar, I know it’s worth it.

  4. Beth says:

    This post reminds me of the days when I used to put up all our beans for the year. I remember both the overwhelm during the process and the satisfaction after all the jars had gone “tink” on their towels as they cooled.

    Your metal canning funnel? What kind of metal, and where did you get it? I’d like to replace our old green, beaten up plastic one…the only thing I could find when I started canning. Thanks!

  5. Rachel Wolf says:

    Hi Beth, I too had a beat up plastic one until last year. My very thoughtful mom bought it for me because she knew I hated pouring hot brine and sauces through that plastic funnel! I recently saw them at our local hardware store. It is stainless steel.

  6. Sheila says:

    Hey Rachel,
    I have not canned one thing this year. I think it is the heat, but I cannot bring myself to set up my water bath canner and boil the day away. Instead, yesterday I made cold cucumber soup from the 30 (thirty) cucumbers my neighbor gave me. Perhaps I will kick myself come February for not pickling them, but the soup was good, and it is too hot with too much other stuff going on right now.
    I’m glad you came out the other side of being overwhelmed. You will enjoy those beans!

  7. Jennie D says:

    I could really relate to this post. I am not an experienced canner but I have canned jam for the last few years and get a deep satisfaction from spreading that jam on homemade bread for my children. This year I am eight months pregnant with my third child and more overwhelmed and tired than ever before so I cheated and instead of picking blueberries, I bought a flat from our local organic farm and even then, when I spent hours in the kitchen canning and hours more freezing a bunch I was wondering why I do this. I just had breakfast and spread some honey-blueberry jam on my toast and well, I am little proud of myself and feel like in a very, very, small way, this is a step toward my someday dream of being more self-sufficient. Your beans are beautiful. Congrats.

  8. Julien says:

    It’s okay. Those moments happen to all of us.

    Last week I had this awesome activity planned with the kids I nanny for. We were going to make marshmallows! I planned everything, got all the supplies out. Had one kid start blooming the gelatin while the other measured sugar into the pot to start cooking. Then, for some reason I will never know, the second child takes the sugar and goes across the kitchen and dumps it in the now-bloomed gelatin. The only two things that can’t mix are now mixed!

    I stood there and stared with my mouth open for a minute and then I put myself on time out. A cool-off period was absolutely necessary.

  9. Danielle says:

    Yep, totally understand — exhausting and rewarding all at the same time. Kind of like kids. I have hundreds of purple bush beans that are ripe for the picking and was thinking dilly beans — no reason they wouldn’t work, right?

  10. Beth says:

    Thank you again. You inspired me, and I bought a stainless steel funnel because I too hated hot foods going through my old plastic funnel.

  11. kari says:

    Wasabi beans? Really, can you share the recipe? That sounds heavenly!

    btw- thank you for your beautiful honesty. I wonder if you know how many hearts you touch.

  12. Mama and Baby Love says:

    Love this post. I am not sure why moms feel like they are doing something wrong when they get overwhelmed (not that you were saying you felt like that, I just know a lot women feel like that). And I love how just simply saying, “I am overwhelmed” makes me feel better. Also, why do you say “put by”‘ instead of “put up”? I am in the south and I have only ever heard the term “put up”. Where does your term come from?

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