Putting August in a bottle

Martha Muzychka
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This is the time of year when you can see perfection in a berry: a raspberry that is wondrously red, a strawberry with a taste that reaches your nose before your tongue, an early blueberry that tells you the fruits of the season will be running for a while yet.

August is an unusual time in my house. It’s a time of laziness, of relaxing both muscles and schedules, of putting up your feet so your toes can be tickled by the breeze wafting through the screen doors.

That’s the first feeling. There’s another seasonal feeling, though, at the other end of the spectrum for pacing, but not (happily) for mood.

When I see lusciously fresh fruit now, my first inclination is not necessarily to savour its flavour, but to capture it for posterity. As my friends and family know, I love the joy to be had in canning, or bottling, all manners of jams, jellies, pickles and sauces.

This is the time of year when conflicting ideals come into play. This past weekend, I was content to let the sun warm my limbs as I stretched out, sipped some coffee and indulged in a delicious book.

At the same time, I know that the clock is ticking on the window when some things can be made.

Take salsa. A few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened in our home: we ran out. Sure, a short drive to the supermarket would get us a bottle of salsa, but we haven’t bought one in ages, largely because we haven’t needed to. Last year, I kind of got carried away, and put up a variety of salsas, some spicier than others, as well as a salsa verde that was a favourite.

I guess we thought those bottles would last forever … but they did not.

Well, now is the time of year when I love tomatoes the most, and I can practically smell the mixture of vinegar, savoury herbs and sweet tomatoes that come with a salsa preparation.

That’s just the start. A friend invited us over to pick her raspberries and red currants, an offer too good to resist. The annual bounty is more than she needs, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to fill a bucket or two with what might otherwise go to waste.

In past generations, canning (the name has stuck, even though cans are not actually involved!) was a way to prevent anything from wasting. With freezers, family habits changed and canning maybe seemed old-fashioned.

Somehow, it became trendy again, and while it may or may not be a fad for some people, I’m there for the variety, the quality and the control I exert over all my ingredients.

I’m also there for the wonders of opening a bottle months from now. One of my moments of revelation came when I made a batch of pesto, and could not get over the startlingly intense green scent of garlic, fruity olive oil and basil that emerged when I thawed a jar in January when fresh basil is rare or not worth buying.

I’ve relived the pleasure of summer by opening up a bottle of cherry pie filling in the depth of winter; I’ve remembered a crisp autumn afternoon by cracking open a jar of blueberry jam for toast on the most miserable spring morning; and I’ve delighted in giving friends chutneys for their Christmas and other holiday feasts.

This point in August is when we desire most to make time stand still, or at least slow down. The air is warm, the mood is right, the sun is a joy … and we know it’ll all be over too soon. But with my best efforts, I will have captured all that and more in my beautiful bottles.

Maybe that’s why it’s worth it to pull myself into the kitchen, and to do something that makes this time of year truly last.


Martha Muzychka is a writer and communications consultant who has more books on canning and preserving than she does dictionaries. Email: socialnotes@gmail.com.

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