Musings

Our Find At The Bottom Of The Jar

08.05.12

Preserving

Preserving

Preserving can be a many splendored thing. I get a warm tingly sensation every time I hold one of the only remaining jars of my grandmother’s pear preserves. I love the taste of homemade applesauce crafted by my mom and dad using Sweet 16 apples from their backyard, stewed slowly on the stove and sealed into jars using the massive speckled pot that lives on a shelf in the utility room just waiting for its annual pilgrimage to their kitchen.

Preserving provides us with a means to hold on to our precious memories. It's not important just because we’re growing older and can't remember whether we already took our vitamin supplement, the duplication of which will almost assuredly result in iron poisoning. Not because all of our smart phones and DVRs and e-calendars and reminder apps have reduced our once fully-functioning memories to ones the caliber of goldfish, but because preserving provides a tangible memory. A physical entity with the ability to store ideas and flavors and tastes and smells in a way that can truly transport.

Preserving can produce a precise and enduring record of our treasures: a hand-crafted jam captures a perfect summer berry at the peak of ripeness, a carefully maintained scrapbook holds the story of a childhood birthday party and a trinket box of sea shells, roadmaps and ticket stubs reveals a long forgotten road trip. Keep in mind though, preserving can get out of hand. I am a saver at heart and have spent a lifetime fighting off the urge to keep things, convinced I am just 37 plastic flower note holders, 23 used coffee cups and 14 cats away from a guest spot on “The Secret Lives of Hoarders”.

People preserve the strangest of things. Take for instance the macabre living room of your sport-hunting neighbor filled with decapitated animal heads that peer out at you with marble eyes, your uncle’s mason jar filled with his surgically removed gall bladder, your great aunt’s collection of glass cat statues named things like Mrs. Lilypants or really any number of frightening jars at the international market filled with what I can only assume are the eyeballs and fingers of various foreign detractors and thieves.

We as a people love to preserve. We strive to hold on to all kinds of things – our hair, our youth, our relationships, our money, our sanity – and we’ve become rather brilliant at it. We’ve developed efficient means for preserving all kinds of things. We have archival grade photo papers, shellac, long-lasting flavored gum, paw print ornaments for our pets, and ipods with enough space to house 7 million songs, 4 million movies and all 427 seasons of Iron Chef America.

All this to say nothing of the methods we have for preserving our food. Gone are the days of squirreling away rations in a root cellar. Today we have avocado savers, banana keepers, deep freezers, food dehydrators and according to the late-night infomercial I succumbed to, some means of shrink wrapping foods using a vacuum cleaner. However, these are all relatively tame compared to the vast array of toxins that most commercial food companies are poisoning us with.

Apparently, in an effort to make snack cakes and pudding cups last until your newborn graduates college, giant food consortiums have pumped our food full of fancy preserving substances such as Latol Rubine and Sodium Ethyl Para Hydroxybenzonate which means that your “all natural cheese product” is just one molecule shy of becoming the plastic container in which it is packaged.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find the fact that a fourteen year old package of “naturally and artificially flavored” chocolaty chip cookies can look and taste the same as the ones being sold on the shelf today, not a remarkable feat of scientific wonder, but in truth, wholly and terribly disturbing. Some things just shouldn’t last – Snooki’s acting career, Toddlers and Tiaras, fanny packs, Shape-ups, a Chevrolet Vega and certainly not my box of breakfast cereal.

This disdain for the artificial and harmful methods of preserving foods is the reason that my sister and I make each jar of Bathtub Gin in pre-WWII fashion, without adding pectin and relying instead on the minimum possible amount of organic cane sugar and lemon juice to showcase nature’s unbelievably delicious organic fruits. We believe that some flavors should be saved and savored, because there’s nothing quite so lovely as a juicy bite of a blushing summer peach on a cold and dreary wintery day. We just believe in preserving our bounty in a way that doesn’t result in your developing cancer, asthma or a third arm.

I therefore suggest that you purge your shelves of your perfectly maintained, decades old pastry pockets and nacho cheese-ish dip and flee to the farmers market in search of products with names like “Mortgage Lifter tomatoes”, “Carolina Red June apples” or “Conundrum cheese” which will be made entirely of - get this - food, and will most assuredly never have been anywhere near the likes of Hexamethylene Tetramine or Orthophenyl Phenol. Or don’t. But don’t call me when you develop unseemly bodily leakages. Or tongue tumors. Or hair on your eyelids.