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Posted by on Sep 22, 2007

Canning, A Little “Communion of Saints”

Monday this past week was a “Canning Day” at our house. The pears were ripe enough to be sweet even without the addition of a light syrup. Canning days cannot be easily scheduled. They can be predicted, but everything must wait for the right degree of ripeness. I had bought the pears nearly a week earlier, on Tuesday, with the hopes that they would be ripe on Saturday. (Saturdays are easier for canning because I can lasso a helper. Weekdays she’s in school.) But they were still green. Sunday they were smelling like ripening pears, but when we tasted one that was beginning to mold, it still had a green tang, so we waited. I washed the jars and made sure I had honey for making the syrup, but that was as far as I could go. Monday they were ready and I set to work.

Canning pears is not difficult, but it is time consuming because the pears must be pealed and the core removed before they are put into the jars for processing. I only had one box of them, but it still took an afternoon of work to get them into the jars and processed and the jam made to complete the day’s work. But oh, the wonder of them in the middle of the winter, when I enjoy them as part of my breakfast or for a midnight snack! It’s worth every minute spent.

So how does this relate to the “Communion of Saints?” I was blessed to know not only all of my grandparents, but also one set of my great-grandparents. Great Grandad died when I was very young and I really don’t remember him except from a picture. But my Great Grandmother Heitstuman lived until after I graduated from college and was engaged. She lived in town and we saw her frequently. We called her Grandma, because I was the first great grandchild and she didn’t like to think she was old enough to be a great grandmother. She even gave us lemon drops when we remembered for a whole visit to call her “Grandma” rather than “Great Grandma.”

Grandma’s birthday was July 3 and she liked to celebrate it on the 4th. We’d gather at her house for a potluck of all the relatives living in town, including three families of my Mother’s cousins who were children my age. (We called my mother’s mother, Grammy. Grammy’s brothers and sister had children much later than she did.) While awaiting the expected fireworks coming after dark, we children would play in the yards and basements of the three family houses on Grandma’s block. In a corner, safely tucked away on neat shelves, there were the jars and jars of canned fruits, vegetables, jams, and jellies. Everyone had them. By the end of the growing season, the shelves were full of the bounty of summer and ready to take us all through the coming winter.

My grandmothers, my mother, my aunts, and many of our neighbors and friends preserved both fruits and vegetables. When I got married, I too began to preserve foods for my family, despite the fact that by the mid-70s fresh fruits and vegetables were available in the stores year round. The variety, textures and flavors of commercially prepared or preserved foods did not match those I had grown up loving. Continuing the tradition, my married son and his wife have joined in the art of canning and preserving foods for the coming seasons.

While none of us is likely ever to be named officially as saints, and certainly we all have our share of faults, our sharing in this activity of canning brings us together in a very special way. I always feel very close to the women who have gone before me as I prepare the raw ingredients and fill the shelves with jars of pickles, jams and canned fruits. I’m sure they are smiling at the sight with their own memories of the work and the pleasure of the enterprise.

The Communion of Saints is somewhat like this communion of canners of fruits. Not people we worship in any way, but more like older sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. People who care about us, who are interested in what we do and how we do it, and who want to help us in whatever way they can to live our lives responsibly, do the good that God hopes we will accomplish, and have a little fun along the way. And, like an older brother or sister, if we need someone to put in a good word for us along the way, they’re happy to do that too!

Yes, Canning Days are special. They bring the reality of my little “communion of saints” into focus again in its relationship to the great Communion of Saints in which all of us share.

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