Monday, June 30, 2008

Feminism and Jelly

The cherries on our tree are getting ripe, and it’s time for the yearly canning and bottling festival to begin at our house. (Well, can it be called a “festival” when it’s just one person? It probably looks more like a comedy of errors to the untrained eye.) Every year, I do my best to utilize everything possible from our yard, so I bottle jams, jellies, fruits, salsas, relishes, and pickles. Generally, anything that I can do boiler method is fair game. I don’t have a seal on my pressure cooker, so meats and veggies are currently frozen. I also dehydrate anything possible from herbs to fruit to sun-dried tomatoes.

So, as I was starting to pick the cherries last night, I was reminded of a conversation with my not-legal-father-in-law last year. He finds it odd that I consider myself a feminist while at the same time participating in a pastime that is traditionally very linked to the role of housewife. (Strangely, Bub’s obsession with cleaning doesn’t strike him as conflicting at all. Then again, she doesn’t say much about feminism or politics in general. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that she, too, is a feminist?) So, is feminism incongruent with apricot jam?

According to Wikipedia, “feminism is a discourse that involves various movements, theories and philosophies that are concerned with the issue of gender difference, which advocate equality for women, and campaign for women’s rights and interests.”

I guess I need to articulate why I do this – something I’ve never really done before. Why is home canning important to me?
#1: I’m cheap. I’m notoriously “frugal.” I’m consumed with saving money – or at least trying to. (This has always been a challenge for us because we are rarely on the same page when it comes to money matters.) In addition to being tight, I cannot stand to waste anything. So, when we moved into a home with mature fruit bushes and trees, I knew that I would need to do something with all of the food.
#2: I’m green-ish. I love the green movement. I love all of the things that it teaches. I’m trying to incorporate green changes/choices into my life. I firmly believe that food should be purchased in season, that we are simply funding terrorists with our dependence on so much foreign oil, that food shouldn’t be transported great distances before being sold (except bananas – call me a hypocrite), that compost is a good thing, and that – although it’s hot and uncomfortable – I don’t always need the AC to be blasting.
#3: The real reason (even though it’s easier to claim/explain the first two.) is that it is part of my past. It’s my herstory and the herstory of the women who came before me – women who always seemed to remain optimistic in spite of tough emotional, financial, marital and social pressures – women who were resourceful and creative, who could take a scrap of material and an ear of corn and make an entire meal appear upon a beautifully set table – women who raised the animals, worked the land and sweated alongside the men, but unlike the guys, were expected to clean up afterwards – and, not surprising when you considering where I live and my family ancestry, women who walked across the prairies with the handcarts, forced from their homes because of bigotry and persecution. Women to whom I can draw parallels in many ways.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t channel the spirits of pioneer women while I’m sterilizing the bottles; I don’t speak to my dead ancestors when I’m stirring the apricots and sugar; I don’t see apparitions while hot peeling the tomatoes.

Every year, however, I make it a point to remember helping my mom with the peaches, pears and cherries. For a very long time, my job was to pour sugar into the top of the fruit packed jar. I was “the best” according to my mom; nobody could do this job as well as I could. I was eventually given the task of constantly stirring the jams and later graduated to hot peeling the peaches and tomatoes. Sometimes, an aunt, grandma or neighbor would join us in the sweltering heat of the kitchen. Even though our brows would be beaded (sometimes dripping) with sweat, we would be surrounded by mounds of raw food, or we would be busy late into the night, the laughter and chatter never stopped.

As I grew older and became busier with school activities and horse-related competitions, I had less time to help with the canning. But, then again, with fewer people in the house, the need was not as great (or so I tell myself). Still, we always managed to put up a few bottles of something or another. After I moved out, I didn’t have the time, resources or equipment, and I was busy living a new life as an out lesbian with new friends, new hang outs, new games, new music.

For my 27th birthday, mom gave me a water bath canner. I was ecstatic. At the time, I thought it was because we had moved into a house with existing fruit trees. Now, I’m convinced that she knew she was dying, that the cancer had already spread, and that she wouldn’t be a candidate for a liver transplant, anyway. That same year, she stayed with us over the 4th of July weekend. I picked cherries and we pitted them well into the night – laughter and endless talk ensued; the only differences were the wheelchair and the location (the back porch enjoying a cool breeze). The next day, we put up five or six bottles of cherries – each bottle enough to fill a pie tin lined with homemade dough. Three weeks later, she died.

So, do feminism and dill pickles have a place on the same plate? I actually expected that I would answer my own question by the end of this post. I haven’t. Is it traditional women’s work or claiming and holding on to a herstory that is rightfully, and happily, mine? Either way, I’ll continue to honor the memory of the women who came before me. Women who almost certainly didn’t define themselves as feminists but who could do anything that they set their minds to, men’s work or not. Women who likely only received a smidgen of the recognition that they deserved then, I recognize them now...

1 comment:

Keri said...

This is such a beautiful post. What a lovely tribute to your mom and the traditions you shared.
Big hug to you this weekend.