Posted on April 27th, 2011
FG: When did you first realize that you were meant to be part of the larger Foraging Brethren of the United Cape Canners Justice League?
I first learned of those noble folks when I was a mere mite of a canner, terrified of all but the most tepid teething ring of canning: the refrigerator pickle. For years, I honed my craft until I had reached the pinnacle of preservation: pressure canning. With schoolgirlish zeal, I contacted the FBUCCJL (via the requisite carrier pigeon, those drama queens), panting to join their ranks and embark on the preservation project of a lifetime. Alack, they were wary and declined my application. Fools! I turned my indignation at this repudiation inward, and with spoon atremble I swore that treacly revenge would be mine.
FG: Are the uniforms itchy? What about burrs in the tights?
Oh, those uniforms! Those monkey suits of the working class heroes. I need no such veil to my endeavors. American Apparel yoga trousers, a faded Department of Eagles t-shirt bearing the quote “There is no heavier burden than a great opportunity” and a vintage apron are all the “uniform” I need. Tights, indeed.
FG: When you say that you could strike anytime, anywhere–well, should my raspberries be nervous?
Clutch your pearls, fair maid. Take note. Those aggregate drupelets of ruby-hue have their eye toward my jar…
FG: Do you leave the mask on for canning?
My only mask is the hushing darkness of hiding-night; where every fruit and leafy green goes unwatched but for the moth’s heed. The canning? Let’s just say I prefer to do it with the lights on.
FG: How long have you been in operation? What is the most satisfying part of your noble endeavor?
A Canner Darkly was born one fateful night when stumbling homeward. The quakes in my belly would go unanswered, it would seem, as I hadn’t the means to quell them. I saw, then, a sight so great: an apple branch, nearly breaking under its weight. The heady fragrance of forsaken fruit at first jogged me quite salivarily, but then piqued in me a rage; food was left to waste by maggots’ hands when the hungry were so legion. I stole them all up in my satchel and raced them home to a brown betty. As time passed, I stole every type of fruit that appeared even the faintest bit squandered, and put them up to ward off the hard edge of winter. But then, O Conscience. I felt obligation to return a bit to those who unwittingly provided – a ceremonial wisp of hair to the Giving Tree – and left a jar on the doorstep. Chutney, and a note:
Greetings, hapless neighbor.
You may have noticed a recent disappearance from your vegetable garden. Let’s face it: those cherry tomatoes’ charming nature has been under-appreciated. So enjoy this garden of sweet tomato chutney instead.
Don’t be afraid, it’s safe. Properly canned according to USDA guidelines and everything. No poison, either, not even a little.
A Canner Darkly
My satisfaction comes in knowing I have spared these precious fruits that lamentable fate of maggot-fodder. I have elevated them to their greatest nirvana, and have hopefully shown their former owners what they have missed.
FG: So, on your home planet: Ball mason jars? Or something from The Future?
I hail from the fair metropolis, Portlandia (but honestly, where else?). In my homeland, that land of raw milk and clover honey, we prefer a Kerr jar (easier for the labeling than the Ball; though my druthers are for the bourgeoisie Weck). For my own use, however, I tend toward the reusable Tattler lids of Now.
FG: Do you have a recipe that you’d care to share with our readership?
Yes, here’s a simple green tomato pickle. To your finest jar of size most apt (say, a wide-mouthed pint), add a leaf of bay; a teaspoon of peppercorn; a teaspoon of turmeric powder; a teaspoon of these seeds, bruised brutish: mustard, celery and coriander; a hot dried chile; a garlic clove, cleft in twain; an onion slice and a pinky finger-sized stick of fresh horseradish root. Stuff your jar with tomatoes clean and green (halved or quartered if you like) and sprinkle on 1/8 teaspoon of alum granules to protect the pickle’s crunch (calcium chloride works as well). Make a brine of 1 cup water, 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons salt. Bring this to enough heat that the salt dissolves, then pour it over the tomatoes. Add the lid and the ring, tighten properly and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. These are good for a year on the pantry shelf; I’d hazard they are a Thing when skewered into a Bloody Mary.
FG: How might we signal for you if we find a yard in need of your services? Batman has that big strobe light. We were thinking about getting you a bike light.
I am no prole tool for the summoning! I am the Unbidden Gardener. Didn’t you get the memo? I am the great Tater Emancipator.
That said, I do offer this poem – a song for the kindergarten playground that should serve as instruction (or warning) for those who would court my beckon:
Leave your victuals too late on vine,
I liberate them; make them mine.
You sow the fruits and yet I reap,
a jar of jam is yours to keep.
FG: What is your hope for the future of food across our fair nation? Does it include capes?
I have but one wish: that gardens be left unattended, but not disregarded.
(Okay, I have but one more wish: that the FBUCCJL reconsider my offer. Those pantywaists really could use a little…color.)