Guest Post: “Summer Canning” by Caroline Carrico

My first ever guest post is live over at my pal Burton’s blog. Please check it out and take a few minutes to read his stuff. I promise you’ll learn something interesting!

memphismaverick

It’s summer time in Memphis, which means that my house has seen us buying the air, grabbing a beer, and getting the water bath canner boiling. Four years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make dill pickles. My Mema has always made what I consider to be the gold standard of pickles–salty with a hint of garlic and so vinegary they make your eyes squint. She passed her recipe down to me, and after a few early mistakes, I have at least come close to her perfect pickle. I will also be making dilly beans, pickled jalapeños and rosemary pickled cherry tomatoes.

Lest you think our house has only smelt like vinegar this summer, we’ve also been peeling, hulling, chopping and crushing our way to jam. The half pints of strawberry jam are finished, paving the way for peaches, blueberries and blackberries. With the help of a friend with a raised burner stove, we’ve bust…

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Pea production

We’ve hit the part of the summer where I spend my evenings watching tv and endlessly shelling peas. It’s about now when I start to wonder if I really want more peas in my freezer. Lady peas are great and all, but will I really, really want them in March?

Then my stomach kicks in and says, “Of course, so don’t be a lazy bum about it.” So I keep picking and shelling and par boiling and measuring and freezing.

If you have any inklings of wanting to put up so of summer’s bounty to enjoy come the dreary days of January, I suggest doing it now. Peas do especially well in the freezer, but there are lots of types of produce that you can freeze.

For peas: Buy some shelled peas that you like (lady and purple hulls are my favorites), parboil them for about four minutes, and put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Then measure them out into whatever quantities you like, put them in bags, label them, and store them in the freezer.

I emphasize the labeling because you do not want mystery vegetable taking up residence in your freezer. You want to use your produce within 6 months ideally, but many things will stay good up to a year. (Quick disclaimer–I’m not a culinary professional. If you want specifics about proper food safety, consult the Ball Preserving Guide.)

Why bother? Because in season produce tastes good and is good for you. I like eating peas and corn, but I won’t buy any unless it’s summer because otherwise it tastes wrong. Not bad, just wrong. The stuff in my freezer, though, tastes like July when it’s February outside.

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Reading again

I usually read without ceasing. I jump from one finished book to a new one without pausing. I have books waiting in the wings, magazines flagged for consumption and a constant mental list of what I want to read (which currently includes Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay). Except for this summer. I periodically go through lags when I just don’t read as much. My job involves a lot of research, so I still read everyday at work, but sometimes I find other things to do at home. This summer it’s been shelling peas and making jam and pickles and playing with my kiddo. 

[This seems like a good place to mention that I do read at home everyday to the baby. We read a lot of Sandra Boyton, Nancy Tillman, Dr. Seuss and an assortment of things from his ever expanding library. I’m talking about reading grownup books. So nobody go all judgmental or paranoid on me.]

Now with all that preamble out of the way, I can say that I picked up some leisure books again. I recently finished Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey. Fortey is the retired trilobite man at the British Natural History Museum. I found this book as part of my reorganization efforts at work. I thoroughly enjoyed his biographical sketches of some of the former curators and Keepers–the most excellent museum job title around–and his explorations of the museum building itself. Of less interest to me personally was his impassioned defense of was taxonomy (the correct naming of species) matters. He makes a compelling argument for why names matter, but after he made that point, I really just wanted more about the weird geeks who have worked at the BM. 

I also read the highly intellectual The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I found it in my neighborhood’s Little Free Library, and it seemed like a good vacation book. I don’t normally read historical fiction because I find myself getting really pissy when authors don’t get the actual history right. Gregory definitely did her research though–as the long list of sources in the back attests. It was a fun read and a perfect for the lake. I’ll probably read some of her other books because I want to. I have found that the absolute beauty of reading lies in not having to defend my reading choices to anyone, including myself.

I am currently reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. It is a loan that I am really enjoying. I like the way that Riggs is combining found photographs and storytelling. It is making for a compelling and entertaining story. Some of the plot, especially the time bending, seems needlessly confusing, but I like the characters. At this point, I’m hoping they all make it to the next sequel.

So that’s what I’m reading at home when I have some spare minutes.

On the road again…

We have been traveling fools this summer. Two trips to New Orleans for weddings, two trips to Nashville to hang out with half of our family, a quick trip to Atlanta for me, a week in Kentucky at Camp Carrico, and, now, back to Nashville. This trip is impromptu–Greg’s cousin from Louisville has a varsity football game at Ensworth tonight. Work lined up right for him and, after spending the week at home with the kiddo, I decided I’d rather come along than try 72 hours of kid without backup. So here we are–on the road again. Our baby is a trooper; I should calculate how many miles he’s traveled.

Coming up in 2014: back to Atlanta for a wedding, 26 hours in Chicago for my birthday, 2 more trips to Nashville and a few days in Louisville. I should mention that most of these sojourns are to visit family. We want our kid to know all of his grandparents and aunts and uncles, and we are going to travel the miles needed to make that happen.

Saint Mary’s Soup Kitchen

I have never once had to worry about having food. I’ve also never had to think about where I would be sleeping or how I would take my next shower. I have always had a home, a support network, and more food and clothes than I truly need. These are big things that I make a habit of taking for granted every day. Of course I’ll be sleeping in my bed tonight; of course I’ll make dinner for my family in my kitchen. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to be without one or any combinations of these necessities that I routinely fail to consider.

Which makes me wonder, what would life be like to not have these be an automatic parts of the day? How would you function not knowing what your next meal would be or where you were going to sleep or when you could take a shower? When I stop to think about how big these big things are, I am stunned at my good fortune. We have more than enough to be safe, sated, healthy, warm and happy.

Hunger and homelessness are multifaceted problem with so many causes–PTSD, income inequality, bad luck, addiction. How do you help? Where do you start? And, to steal from Dr. Paul Farmer, beyond mountains, there are mountains.

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is the emphasis on social justice, and St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen in downtown Memphis takes the biblical imperative to feed the hungary literally. The soup kitchen has been operating continuously since 1870, and it serves hundreds of meals six days a week.

Frankly, I don’t know what to do to end hunger in our community. What I do know is that since we are putting our money where our hearts are, we can at least help provide food to a few people who are in need of a good meal and smile. It’s not going to change the problem, but it will help.

The Deal

So here’s the deal: 

My garden is more weeds than anything, which is inducing a lot of guilt-ridden hand wringing. One of my adjunct classes–the one that I spent a month and a half prepping–is cancelled. We just got back from our week at the lake with the Carricos. All the baby food is gone so I’ve spent the morning turning produce into paste. 

I have all of these great blog posts that I keep drafting in my head while I’m driving or shelling peas or peeling vegetables. They are philosophical and witty. They are longer than 150 words. They are in pretty prose that makes sense. Then the baby wakes up or the pot boils over and the eloquent thought is erased by tiredness by the time I sit down to type. 

I’m not sure what the point of this post is except to say that I have so many ideas that I want to get down.

Eventually.

Maybe?

Fugitive at the Museum

Here’s another piece of weird Pink Palace and Memphis history that I wrote for the museum’s blog:

The Pink Palace

October 24, 1950, started as a normal day at the Memphis Museum. Visitors explored the galleries and looked at exhibits of animal heads, glass, documents and fossils. One of those afternoon visitors was James Eddington who made a trip to the museum as part of his vacation to Memphis. Eddington lived in Kentucky and worked as the farm manager at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, KY. As he walked through the exhibits, he noticed another museum guest who looked familiar. He recognized the man as an escaped prisoner from the Kentucky Reformatory.

Chester Merrifield was serving prison time for robbery when he decided to make an escape. He had been in Memphis for a few days and struck up a “close friendship” with a Memphis businessman. The police elected to withhold the name of the “well known Memphian” who drove Merrifield to the museum. When Eddington recognized Merrifield, he…

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On going slow

It goes against my nature to go slow. I like things to be fast–I want to think on my feet, read quickly, jump at an opportunity, run ahead. I always have, and, in many ways, this tendency has served me well. I got where I needed to be and moved on to what came next.

So it has taken a lot of mental effort to reteach myself to go slow. Having the baby has taught me many things; most pertinently, if I go too fast, I am going to miss things. If I try to quickly go about my mental list of things to do, I will miss a gummy smile or an attempt to crawl or a beautiful concert banged out on a toy piano. If I try to multitask every moment of the day, I don’t get where I want to be any faster; I just get tired and messy.

I’m working on it. The baby laughs are a good reward system.