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An Ode to the Simple Life

By:  Joni Woolf

I don’t pay a lot of attention to Facebook, at least not as much as some of my friends and relatives do. My general view is that it is far more destructive than it is constructive, in spite of the best efforts of genuinely good people who post positive encouragement. I realized this again recently when I read a relative’s post about her naked fear that the world was falling apart, as she re-posted something I had seen several times recently—a post that indicated that, indeed, the world is falling apart, everything is terrible, no one can be trusted, we are doomed.  I’ve threatened (to myself) many times that I was going to leave this format that has done so much damage to our common life, and this may be the posting that finally causes me to act. One thing I’ve been encouraged to do—if it upsets me so—is stay away from it.

So I’m trying to pay more attention to the things that really matter—like food and shelter and reading good books. And making preserves. Yes, you read that right. Making preserves. What can go wrong when you’re standing over a hot stove, trying to decide if the pears or peaches or figs have cooked just long enough, but not too long? So, I’ve decided the solution to some of our problems is simply to re-focus. Think about something you can do in your own kitchen that will bring pleasure to others. They won’t care about your politics if you’re bringing them peach preserves.

I had tried several recipes for pear preserves, and was never satisfied with the outcome. So I went to the internet, searching once again, and found someone’s recipe—a woman who had helped her grandfather (a man she called “Paw Paw”) pick the pears that her grandmother made into preserves. When she was a bit older, she found the recipe, in her grandmother’s handwriting, that her grandfather had left by her door—with a pail of pears.  It is simple. It takes more time than other pear preserve recipes I’ve used. But it so much better, it’s worth all the time it takes to watch these once pale pears turn into a rosy brown syrupy delicious delight that can only be made better by placing a spoonful on top of a homemade biscuit.

Here’s how you do it: Peel the pears, core, and cut into ¼ inch slices.(I do not have a corer; I cut the pears in half, and in half again, and remove the seeds and tough center, then cut into ¼ inch slices). Use half as much sugar as you have pears; that is, if you have 10 cups of pears, cover them with 5 cups sugar. Let them soak overnight, as the pears absorb the sugar. The next day, put them on to boil at a slow temperature, add ½ a lemon, sliced, for every 5 cups pears.  The lemon gives a tasty contrast to the sweet pears. Cook at least 2 hours, until the pears begin to turn a rosy brown color, and are almost transparent. If you are cooking slowly, it may take 3 hours. That’s okay. Remember this is what you are doing not only to make preserves, but to save your sanity from the world that is going crazy just beyond your door.  When the pears are ready, place in hot, sterilized jars and seal with new lids and rings (rings needn’t be new). Sterilize in boiling water for 10 minutes after sealing.

This same method can be used for peaches, EXCEPT that the amount of sugar is equal to the amount of peaches—10 cups of peaches, 10 cups of sugar. I also add lemon slices to peaches. Peaches do not require the longer cooking that pears do. Usually an hour is sufficient to bring them to 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. At that temperature they are perfect for canning/preserving.

Finally, here’s a modern twist on old-fashioned fig preserves, given to me by my good friend Abbie Dillard, whose daughter Chaudron Gille gave it to her. You’ll enjoy the added flavors of fresh rosemary and balsamic vinegar.

Fig Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar and Fresh Rosemary

4 cups finely chopped figs (or 3 cups dried reconstituted in lukewarm water for a few hours)

¼ cup fresh lemon juice plus zest of one lemon

1/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar

4 ½ cups sugar

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Add the figs, lemon juice, vinegar and rosemary to a large pot. Let sit 15 minutes, allowing flavors to blend. Stir in the sugar. Bring mixture to a full boil. If the mixture isn’t liquid at all when you turn on the heat, you may add a few tablespoons of the water used to reconstitute the figs—or just plain water. You will want a fairly thick consistency before cooking. Turn the heat down and continue to gently boil until thickened (at least 25 minutes) Ladle into prepared jars. Place jars in in water bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot. Boil jars, covered, five minutes and transfer with tongs to wire rack to cool.

I have learned in recent years that canning not only preserves fruits and vegetables that you will be glad to find in the pantry in the depths of winter. It is good for the soul to preserve earth’s bounty—the fruits and vegetables that someone has planted, harvested and marketed—and to give thanks for the hands that did all this. My preserving these foods is small tribute to the labor of many hands (and backs) that have stood the heat of the day to bring food to our tables. So think about what the word ‘preserve’ means. And practice it. When winter comes, you’ll be glad you took this road less traveled. And left Facebook.