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My husband has the gift of canning. His gift flows from physical strength and family tradition. My gifts tend more toward looking out the window and sitting, occasionally, at poolsides with a book. The latter gift goes largely unutilized.


Our extravagantly beautiful summer bowed and bolted; fall arrived, and the first phase of our grapes, more than 20 pounds, ripened overnight. Rain split our thin-skinned varieties; especially hard-hit was the Sweet seduction, and mold set in quickly throughout much of the vine. The Interlaken held up well, and my husband picked 23 pounds from our vines. The Canadice, the sweetest and best of all, also held up well, and remains firm enough to go another week before picking. The Campbell’s Early, a Concord type, has never been true to its name, and probably has another week or two before it ripens. With plums and apples also in sight of ripening, canning will likely continue for the next three weekends. It makes for a homey time.


My husband canned about 17 pounds of Interlakens, juiced another couple of pounds, and refrigerated enough for us to enjoy fresh for the week. He does the canning outdoors on the deck on a propane stove. He has the method simplified to stemming the grapes, placing them in jars, adding water but no sugar, and placing them in the pressure canner for about ten minutes. The green grapes lose their vibrant color, and look rather like large canned peas, but they are very good, and we enjoy them through the winter.


I know that some women appreciate the sight of a linen closet stocked with neatly folded towels and sheets. I appreciate a well-stocked pantry with rows of mason jars containing the fruits of our own backyard. There is something inherently wonderful about growing and canning things, not from necessity, but from a love for the ability of the land to yield and the ability of the hand to work. Of course we can buy grapes the year round, but we would rather do it ourselves. Or at least, I would rather watch my husband do it.


So often, the scratches and bruises I sustain are the only visible evidence that I have been working in the garden. The rhubarb grew four feet high this year and produced yucca-like blooms at the tops of its broad stalks. I waited for the curiosity to die and then cut it down with a machete. Gathering the stalks and brown fronds for disposal, I wondered how many North Americans cut their rhubarb with a machete. We aren’t fond of rhubarb; I can eat it with a lot of sugar, but I can’t eat a lot of sugar, so it’s a weed to us, another remnant of the “inherited garden” that came with our house.

I have a very good friend who’s solidly Reformed in her theology and a self-confessed tomboy. Don’t let her fool you; she has a feminine heart that melts on contact with the atmosphere, and she’s a beautiful woman. But she’s a knock-out in a Stetson hat, too. She loves to give gifts, and she’s given me a wonderful volume of Puritan theology and a gold Guess change pouch in the same birthday load. But she always, always includes an embroidered handkerchief in the gift bag. I carry a small pack of tissues in my backpack because public restrooms sometimes are out of toilet paper. I’m not a hankie person. It doesn’t matter. I have a drawer full of embroidered handkerchiefs from my friend who’s been trying for years to make a lady of me.

The handkerchiefs remind me of pruning roses. The roses send forth beautiful blooms and they send forth useless, long, gangly shoots, called suckers. The trick is to encourage blooms and discourage suckers that will not produce buds but will suck energy from the plant and deter buds from receiving nourishment. A friend who used to work for a florist showed me the proper way to prune roses once the bloom has faded, clipping it down the stem at a group of five leaves. I have no idea what the advantage is, but I do it because my friend said to. I suppose the goal is to make the roses comport to trim efficiency and beauty–to make them ladylike, in a way. But roses have no natural inclination to be beautiful; they have to be pruned constantly, even though blooming produces seeds, the plant’s mechanism of survival.

I wonder at this; I’m surprised it did not perplex Agur.

July 2018
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