It has been warm lately—about 100 degrees one afternoon last week—and everything is ripe. I have spent hours in the kitchen canning roasted tomatoes and grape juice. Fortunately, both projects have a come and go rhythm to them. Once you have set up your systems, I am free to check email or read a few more chapters for the Honors American Lit Summer Reading assignment that I, like all of my students, have put off until mid-August (if not later, to be honest).
I spent Sunday afternoon in an interesting vortex of Women’s Work, canning grape juice into vintage jars collected from my partner’s mother and a friend of mine, both of whom were serious canners until their children left home. The jars reach back at least to 1976; I have eight or ten that sport Bi-Centennial designs in the glass. Some are “magic mason” jars and a few are so heavy and sturdy I think they have been around since the 1950s. I think of the gallons of preserved foods these jars have held and will hold while I pour boiling water over grapes and sugar. Preserving foods in steamy kitchens has always been women’s work—as has gloating over the full jars in the basement later.
|Grapes and sugar|
While the canner was steaming away, I read A Midwife’s Tale, which is close reading and research work by one of my old professors looking at the life of a midwife in Augusta, Maine in the 1780s. By looking at the records in the diary, we know that very few women died in childbirth in rural Maine. More died from diseases that swept the town periodically. There were also some bits of scandal revealing in the journal on Sunday—out of wedlock births, people cheating on one another, and a rape case. Small towns are small towns, no matter what the century. Martha Ballad Moore, the midwife, kept her own accounts independent of her husband; they were partners, not dependents. It is an interesting read. I worked my way through three chapters, stopping every ten minutes to empty and load the steam canner or pour some more boiling water into the jars.
Despite electricity and glass jars, I did not feel that far away from the 18th century world I was reading about. Winter is coming. We must be ready.
Pick a bucket of wild, deep flavored grapes—the kind that sprawl over the fence in the back alleys of older neighborhoods. Rinse them off and remove the stems. Wash a bunch of quart jars. Buy the lids before you start the project.
In each jar, tumble about a cup of grapes and a quarter cup of sugar. This is totally flexible—it started out as half a cup of each, but that was too sweet for us. A few more grapes never hurt anyone. Pour boiling water over the grapes, leaving a half inch of headroom at the top. Cap and ring. I always get a little ahead of the canner with the boiling water.
Process in boiling water or the steam canner for ten minutes. Cool, label, and put on the shelf for winter.