I scooted over to my parents’ house the other day after work, to grab some beets and check out Mom’s raised garden bed.

When I walked through the door I was greeted with the smell of salsa, and what definitely appeared to be a canning binge.

Mom and my brother were canning dill pickles and salsa. At the time I got to the house, Dan was gone making a run to town for more vinegar.

I was pretty jealous; at about this time of the year I used to get in on the canning, drying and freezing fun, but work has kept me from participating. I didn’t do any gardening this year, either – didn’t even get any of my mulberries picked for making mulberry-sour cherry jelly. (Judging by the purple bird poop on my car, at least my avian friends enjoyed them.)

Despite neglecting my gardening and food-preserving duties, I get to benefit from the efforts. When Dan returned from the store, he had me taste his salsa before it went into the jars. It was wonderful; Brother likes things super spicy, but it wasn’t a plain heat; there were enough different types of peppers involved that the salsa’s flavor was more complex. The jarred dill pickles looked amazing; I’m looking forward to getting a taste of them, too. (I bought dill pickles at the store the other day, and it felt wrong.)

Since it only happens about the same time every year (at least in my family) it’s easy to forget how messy putting food by is. Mom’s kitchen and dining area looked like a cross between a cucumber farm explosion and the end result of the annual Spain tomato fight. To be fair, when I canned at my house my kitchen always ended up in similar form.

Don’t even get me started on freezing sweet corn….

A lot of wonderful things come from messes, though. At Thanksgiving, there are few better things than green bean casserole made with homegrown beans. An Easter Sunday relish tray isn’t complete without some sweet pickles from the canning pantry stash. The year we grew red potatoes was a good one; garden potatoes are indescribable in flavor and texture.

The best things are the memories made growing, making and consuming the preserved goods. I love the fun Mom and I always have selecting seed varieties to start. I treasure the afternoon, well into the night, of canning dill pickles with Dan and our cousin Mary. The only Thanksgiving I’ve had at my house was with my uncle and my friend Brenda; among other things I made green bean casserole – baked in the dish left to me by my grandma.

It won’t be the same this year without having helped with processing. Even so, just witnessing – knowing, really – who grew and prepared the goods truly makes the palate personal.

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