Back in 2011 I was married, raising three boys, and writing a book titled From Virgin Gardener to Canning Queen, How to Be Happy and Healthy Eating Your Own Food. When I finished the manuscript, I sent out a few queries. I got one expression of interest, sent more information, waited for about a year and then found out that it had been rejected but the editor had forgotten to inform me. I tucked the manuscript away in the disorganized filing cabinet of my mind and moved on to writing my first novel. Now divorced for a couple years, and my youngest son leaving to attend college in the fall, I have been taking stock of my writing pantry.
I had to search for my how-to manuscript. Like many things in my life and marriage, I had put it out of view because I had mixed feelings about it. I didn’t even really want to write a how-to. That was my ex-husband’s idea that he told me I should write when I should have just kept my mouth shut but I had said something about my poetry and fiction having been rejected and my general discouragement with getting published. But I did as I was told, when I had any time, writing a book about our life as homesteaders like it was the greatest thing in the world, and how I had started out as an ignorant city dweller taking delight in my few window plants and then moved on to living in the South, cooking and preserving food for my family and picking herbs from my kitchen garden. That part was true. But maybe I should have called it How to Not Listen to Your Feelings by Serving Everyone but Yourself Working Over-Over Time.
I took a creative approach to the manuscript, mixing recipes and advice with journal entries that list many different activities. There’s much to read between the lines when I look at the manuscript now. Not only do I have a new perspective on my relationships with people, I also have a new perspective on my relationship with Earth.
On June 23, 2011 there was a wind storm. Back then I wasn’t thinking much about whether it was normal to have a windstorm in June. I had only been living in the south for a couple years, so I really didn’t have an idea. Nowadays I notice patterns and think about whether an event is unusual, if it’s related to the impact of climate change. This is what I wrote then.
The worst thing that happened in the windstorm was that one of the chair pillows blew into the deep end of the pool, and there were tons of leaves at the bottom too. I dove in, in the rain, after coming back from swimming lessons for the boys, and pulled the heavy thing from the bottom. I hope I don’t get an ear infection now. I normally don’t get my ears wet. Before swimming lessons, I got another unbearable ear load from my husband, that was even worse than the previous one. Then I cut up a big cabbage, and sauteéd it in two pots with garlic and onion. I left them there to cool. When I came back, I put all that in four-gallon freezer bags and stuck them in the freezer. Then I got out the vacuum sealer. I had about thirty or so bags of greens that were frozen but needed to be vacuum sealed. That took me about two hours and brought me to about 3pm. At 3:30 I started dinner, leftover chicken, with steamed leftover rice, biscuits and gravy, and cauliflower, spinach and sweet potato sauteéd together. Of course there was a tossed salad and also a sweet cucumber salad. After dinner and cleanup, I went out and turned the fresh compost, and then netted all the leaves out of the bottom of the pool. Then I vacuumed the deck. Then I came in and showered and sat down and cut open another large cabbage and cooked it up with mushrooms this time. I left them to cool and write this journal entry, and now it is almost 10pm. I’m going to put them in the freezer too and try to sleep. If not, then I’ll get back in my kitchen and start pickling beets or cucumbers.June 23, 2011
So, I don’t remember what the unbearable ear load was. Although I’m sure it had something to do with my numerous deficiencies. And you might have assumed that I said of course there was a salad because I think everyone should have salad with their dinner, but I said that because if I didn’t fix a salad with dinner, I would have gotten another ear load. Maybe ear loads and ear infections are related… But the freezer and all those plastic bags…
A couple weeks ago I sold my chest freezer. One of the last remnants of objects in my home related to my marriage. I already have a fridge/freezer combo. But we used to also have two freezers in the pantry. One was for corn, squash, prepared meals and more, and the other was for all the fish he brought home that I vacuum-sealed and then scaled and gutted after thawing for dinner at least once a week. Everything about those freezers was related to my labor, and there was also a lot of purchasing of plastic vacuum sealer bags. The vacuum sealer needs everything to be just so, or it doesn’t function, and must be cleaned frequently. Once sealed, the freezer keeps it all frozen until it’s plucked back out, consuming electricity twenty-four seven. Then the plastic is tossed to get at the food.
My husband used to talk with reverence at the dinner table about the Old Ways. But freezers really aren’t that old. Today, I don’t think freezing as a method of preservation is sustainable. I am more interested in dehydration and fermenting and storing those products in reusable jars, which also happens to be less labor-intensive, so there’s my energy conservation to be considered too.
The past-middle-aged guy who bought the chest freezer from me told me he owns several homes and he’s going to put it in one of them so that when he goes there he can use it to take an ice bath. He said he has one in each of his other residences. He enumerated many of the benefits of the practice while he single-handedly removed it from my kitchen and loaded it onto his truck. It was impressive, almost convincing even about the super-power bestowed on those who bathe in ice. I hope he gets good use out of it and makes some good memories.
My memories tend to be complicated. I read between my contradictory minds and try not to judge myself for what I didn’t know or understand about me, or about how to grow and preserve food. So, out of an old manuscript comes a new idea about how to write about the journey. I don’t want to tell anyone how to do anything, but I do want to talk about everything I’ve been learning and what has and hasn’t worked for me. And I would like to hear from you about the same.