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August 15, 2013

A Delicious Obsession

Chris Cavey

It’s mid-August, 10 months from the Maryland Primary Election and 16 months from the 2014 General Election; the rain has been plentiful and my gardens are bursting at the seams.


Having watched too many "prepper" shows this past year, I recently returned to my country roots, canning and freezing my garden's bounty as if the end were near.


We all have hobbies and everyone knows my passion is gardening. There is just something nice about scrubbing dirt from under your fingernails, all the while knowing your thumb will stay green. This year, much to the chagrin of my family, a mission to preserve everything possible in jars of various sizes has blinded my reasoning.


My addiction started simply enough, experimenting with apricot, strawberry and blueberry jams. They looked wonderful sitting in cute eight-ounce quilted jars – and they tasted great. The adulation from the family lifted me to the next level of home preparation… squash and cucumbers!


This summer was excellent cucumber weather. I was eyeball deep in four different varieties, harvesting twice a week. I pickled them in brine, did quarts of dill slices, made them sweet and mixed them with other garden products such as onions, carrots and peppers. Then one day I found myself no longer satisfied making simple kosher dills or pickled squash with onions and I crossed the line – cucumber jam!


My youngest son came home late one evening and caught me pouring a pale green liquid into well-washed four-ounce jars. He asked what I was doing and why the kitchen smelled like cucumber at 11:45 P.M. When I confessed the ingredient of the newest jam project, he looked at me with disgust and said: "No. No. No. This is ridiculous and sick! Nobody ever eats or uses cucumber jam! You have a problem."


Well, perhaps he was right.  Here I was salivating over a product I had no clue how or where I would use. Perhaps I had pushed the limits. Previously the wildest I had attempted was apricot/jalapeño in eight-ounce jars. Even then, I stopped at six. In my shame I realized a full carton of cucumber jam was out of control!


The following week I began stepping down my addition, first with a fruit cocktail, then a cranberry conserve finally working my way to just plain relishes. It was only then I felt I could move on to the next vegetable waiting to be preserved – the plain old green bean. With my Mom's help, I sweated through 28 quarts; but afterward I felt relieved and back to the reality of canning for my family's needs.


Since that day I have pickled a few beets, did a couple of pints of jalapeños just for fun, processed several quarts of vegetable soup, a few pints of spicy peaches and made salsa. Later this week, with my family's help, tomatoes in every form will be canned and another half-bushel of farm fresh peaches will be on the shelf. Afterward, if I still feel strong and ready, it will be on to pepper relish and maybe even some candied jalapeños or pickled watermelon rinds.


The family is happier now, yet always cautious of what is in store, when I start filling the canner with water. Nick takes credit for pulling me from the brink of my crazy canning addition and occasionally checks in on my progress – and to taste the bounties of the week.


My addiction, however, still lingers. Just last week, when I knew Nick would be home late, I reached for the eight ounce quilted jars, grabbed a 10-pound bag of sugar and whipped up a quick batch of cantaloupe jam – laced with vanilla – a wicked combination to be later poured on ice cream.


Later, without anyone's knowledge, I stashed the sealed jars in the back of the storage room…proving I still have a long way to go before my addition subsides with the first frost!


I'm prepared – I can!


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