The garden, subconscious.

When Tim and I got married almost 10 years ago, my friend Paige offered to make our cake — a 3-tiered coconut cake with apricot filling. It was lovely, garnished with my mom’s vintage bride and groom cake topper. But getting to that perfect end was not easy for the baker — the apricot filling made for layers that wanted to slip and slide into something more Seuss than Martha.

The night before the wedding, Paige had a nightmare that the cake was trying to kill her. The cake, swollen to a larger-than-human scale, was lumbering down the long hallway of the house where we were staying — wielding a chef’s knife, with intent to harm.

I still laugh, hard, when I tell this story. It’s just classic, in so many ways — how our anxieties are anthropomorphized in our subconscious lives.

Late last week, I awoke in the middle of the night, in a state of panic: I had ordered a case of apples from the orchard at the farmer’s market. This had been an impulse decision — we were out of last fall’s jars of homemade applesauce, and I was so surprised to find a farmer with some seconds left in cold-storage, that I hastily ordered a bushel. (That’s about 40 pounds, if you’re like me and spent 38 years of life not knowing what a bushel was.)

When I awoke in a cold sweat, it wasn’t out of a dream that the apples had sprouted legs and were creeping up our stairway with my kitchen utensils as bludgeoning devices; it was simply out of a sub-conscious realization of what I was facing. I spent a day and a half last week dealing with that bushel of apples — a day and a half that I didn’t really have to spend. Canning is something that, in the end, I believe is worth it. But the process devours space and time at a point determined solely by the harvest. When the apples and tomatoes have reached their prime and begin a downward spiral of deterioration, you have no choice but eat or preserve them.

We have planned a very large (by our standards) garden this year, and it overwhelms me. Not just because I’m not very good at keeping green things alive — but because I know that what we hope it brings will mean a sh*tload of work. I remember reading the parts in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where Barbara Kingsolver talks of her home being invaded by zucchini (we aren’t planting any) and about cases of ripe tomatoes rotting because local farmers couldn’t sell them to the grocery store. Wasted produce keeps me awake at night, and I can’t help but fear I’m not up to the task of preserving the bounty.

Of course, there’s always the chance that there won’t be a bounty, which is the nightmare personalized to the sleeping life of my husband. He ordered the seeds, prepared the beds, and now obsessively watches the seed starts as they pop up out of their moist soil. He coddles them, taking their trays to different locations that might offer more warmth and better light as the sprouts begin to grow leaves. As we sleep in the same bed each night, the thoughts haunting our slumber are of opposite ends of the garden spectrum: he fears a poor harvest, I fear a bumper crop.

I’m willing to admit that mine is the more irrational nightmare (as usual). After all — there is no shortage of people in our neighborhood who would gladly take excess off our hands. But I went into this with an end-result in mind —  perhaps, in retrospect, my plans bite off more than I can chew. I have visions of canning enough tomatoes to get us through winter. An ambitious goal, would you say?

I’ll say. Or, at least, my nocturnal self says — right about the time I awake in a cold sweat, having just escaped a giant, ripe tomato, bearing flesh-eating teeth, intent on having me for dinner.

28 thoughts on “The garden, subconscious.

  1. “I have visions of canning enough tomatoes to get us through winter. ” I have the same scary goal. We will see how it goes. 🙂

      1. I have NO idea. I am mainly wanting salsa. We don’t eat a lot of tomato based stuff b/c of Bill and Paul but I would like to have some tomato sauce too. My granny used to just freeze whole tomatoes that had been blanched and peeled. Have you ever tried that?

      2. Last summer I had so many tomatoes that I couldn’t keep up with the canning. I washed them, dried them and froze them whole on cookie sheets in the freezer. Once frozen, I popped them in freezer bags. When I needed some tomato for sauce or soup I would take the frozen orb from the freezer, run in under water (the skin just falls off) and chop it up. I was thrilled with the result. Hope this helps!

      3. So, Melissa and Cathy,

        I froze some tomatoes last summer, but wasn’t crazy about the results. Mainly b/c frozen seemed to have so much more water content (once thawed) than canned. So for my sauce and soup recipes, everything seemed much more watery. Wasn’t sure how to deal with this?

  2. I canned last summer for the first time. While I was doing it, I said “this had better be worth it!” And it SO was. We had salsa and tomato sauce all winter. But I still remember how horrible those 2 whole days were!!!!

    And if you want strawberries, don’t buy them. Come to my garden in a month and I’ll give you plants. Our patch always gets too big each spring!

    1. I’ll take strawberries!
      Did you only can sauce, or did you ever can whole or diced tomatoes? How many quarts did you put up?
      Can you talk me down from a ledge if I panic?

      1. I only canned a basic sauce (so I could use for pasta or pizza, etc.) and also salsa. And only canned at the very end of the season. I think I canned about 8 pints each of sauce and salsa. The salsa was AMAZING and not nearly as difficult to make, surprisingly. The sauce was good, but took FOREVER to peel and juice before cooking down. Oh, and I was 7 mos. pregnant, so I’m sure that didn’t have ANYTHING to do with how tired I was. 🙂 I wish I would have done it 2-3 times throughout the summer instead of just giving away all the excess tomatoes though. I would have had a TON more and wouldn’t have run out of salsa so quickly (we eat a lot of salsa, not so much sauce).

        I’ll talk you down, no worries.

        Oh, and once the strawberry patch gets going, you’ll need to freeze or can them too. 🙂 We freeze hundreds of strawberries each summer. It’s SO easy. Much easier/faster than canning!!

  3. Katie, I’ve never canned, but would love to give it a try this year. I was inspired after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, but alas, we moved and were in temporary housing last year. Can you point me to some good resources for the first-time canner? We also have a full size freezer, which finally has some room, after buying 1/2 a cow last August. I so relate to your post. How many dreaded tasks I take on for the pay off later.

    1. So I’ve only done water-bath canning — which is good for most of what I want to do (applesauce, pickled things, tomato sauces, etc). Most of the directions I followed came from random Ag Extension sites (UGA has a good one!) that came up in google searches.

      How’s the cow been? We didn’t get on this year, mostly out of repeatedly forgetting to order it — but also b/c I bought a freezer-half-full of chicken, and half a lamb. We’ll be needing more beef soon, so I’m sure we’ll get another 1/4 or 1/2 as soon as harvest comes.

  4. I did something similar last August, when I was 39 weeks pregnant nonetheless. Ten pounds of blueberries were ordered as I just couldn’t imagine not having jam and frozen berries for pancakes and muffins all winter long. I was canning jam on my due date and hating it at the time. But then I couldn’t let all that goodness go to waste and of course it was worth it.

    1. Now THAT is nesting. Go, you! (I don’t blame you one bit though — we ran out of frozen Hinkle’s blueberries last month, and the replacements I get at Trader Joe’s don’t even seem like the same fruit. My kids won’t eat them!)

  5. This post made me chuckle. Why is it the anxiety is always lumbering down the hallway?!? Ha, ha.

    Gorgeous photos! Yay spring!

    1. Yes, yay Spring! — except what’s going on this weekend? A short revisit of winter — of course, Tim’s freaking out about the seeds we’ve planted outside…

  6. Well, weren’t you a beautiful bride? I loved seeing the personal pics (that’s the nosy side of me coming out). Everyone must be thinking garden these days. Mike and I sat down last night and came up with the preliminary plans to dig up/destroy nearly half our yard in an ambitious attempt at a patio/garden area. I have big plans for that garden space, and I know that I’ll be cursing myself come the end of August, and patting myself on the back again in November when we reap the rewards (hopefully). That is, if the home improvement project doesn’t send us to divorce court.

    1. Sadly, it’s one of the few wedding pics we have (boring story that I’ll share over a craft beer at the Enoteca ; )

      Did you can your garden harvest last summer?

      You could preemptively begin couples therapy — euphemistically call it “Garden Therapy.”

  7. It will be worth it. I totally dropped the ball last year due to other things, and I miss not having my own tomato juice and such. One of the joys of living in Texas is I get two tomato seasons. One in about a month and half and one in the fall.

    1. I was surprised at how late we get tomatoes here in the Midwest, relative to the South, when we moved in ’09. Also, the season ends so much earlier — the first frost is often in late September, so tomatoes are toast by then.

  8. I did can my tomatoes last year and made about 15 jars of hot salsa. I can every year and last summer I canned 50 pints of tomatoes and 4 qts of tomatoes to get us thru the winter. I have 6 pints and 2 qts left. Guess I’ll shoot for 60-65 pints this summer. Good luck.

  9. I once bought my bodyweight in apples! They were 99c a kilogram…. too good a price not to buy! What a saga, but I did it. Jars and jars of applesauce. Now, I buy in smaller, more manageable, bulk lots!

    1. Heidi, I don’t blame you — but you’re right, that’s a lot of apples. I think a case, for me, two times over, is my current limit.

    1. It’s a most paralyzing feeling in the middle of the night. Always seems more manageable in the morning — if I could just convince myself of that at 3am.

  10. You’ve got to plant at least one hill of zucchini! Actually I haven’t grown any for several years. I intend to put out tomato plants soon so I may just add one hill of zucchini this year.

  11. In Pittsburgh we had Barlett pear trees. I decided we should have pear butter. Took us all day, peeling, slicing, cooking down…..all to get 6 small jars! We thought of that butter like gold. Argued over who to give them to, only using it for special occasions. It was good…I still laugh though.

    Cant wait to see your bounty!

    And you, as I would expect, were a beautiful bride.

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