On math, canning, and The Produce Fairy

If, instead of being oblique about the usefulness of math when I was a kid, the math teachers in my life had specifically said HOW I might use math, I might have cared more, tried more, and thus, had more stick with me. (I may well have continued stubbornly to resist, though. Really, that’s more likely.) As it is “you’ll need it when you’re older,” really didn’t inspire me. Most math didn’t come all that naturally to me, which was part of my resistance to it– I suspect my unconscious thinking seems to have been something along the lines of, “Lots of things DO come naturally, so why would I bother with the stuff that doesn’t?!” It took me YEARS to get the basic concept of multiplication. At any rate, I never would have guessed that close to my 30s, I’d be wishing I knew how or had a calculator that could turn decimals into fractions (for some rather involved pricing, and also for recipes), or calculate angles using only certain available information (for building the chicken coop). It turns out that it took a few extra years than for some people, but… Math is a part of life! Whoa.

So now my head hurts. I’ve just spent the past hour and a half dividing and multiplying and adding and trying to turn fractions of ounces into decimals so I can … do math. Sure, I’m perfectly capable of most of the basic stuff, but don’t ask for any algebraic formulas or anything. And still, my head hurts. Now I know roughly how much it costs me to produce a jar of dill pickles. Basically, the math tells me, time to get more efficient. Efficiency or Bust. Literally. But (and this is the truly ironic thing), now I LIKE that mental strain! I LIKE doing all the calculations to figure out how much (vinegar, salt, various spices, garlic) is used per jar and how much that costs. What changed? Maybe I always had it in me (I think this is true). Maybe I’m more rational now. Maybe I just needed to NEED the skills in actual life (also probably true). Whatever the case, I enjoy my bouts of (highly useful) geek time.

On other subjects…

My very good friend, Emma, has recently started doing some canning. The other day she said this, “There’s something about canning that feels really empowering. Like I just conquered time or something. Cantaloupe will go bad in under a week? Now it will outlast my student loans!” (She made a pickled melon recipe.) I feel like the first part of her thought really  hits on something I hadn’t been able to solidify into conscious thought before. Canning DOES feel empowering. I DO feel like I conquered time, in a way. I have taken something with a very short shelf-life, and made it last much, much longer. I can feed people through wind and hail and sleat and rain and biting cold! (Or however that old post man motto goes!) Home canned, fresh produce, whether pickled or not, speaks to a dogged belief that the future will come, and that we’ll be prepared to face it (feed it). Pretty cool.

The wonderful John and Lynn Lipkvich, our neighbors across the road at Spruce Lane Farm, have been back at their summer-level of extreme awesomeness! John keeps telling me to take this veggie for supper, or some of that veggie for freezing, and we have lots of long talks about plans, pest and diseases, and recipes. John is also known as “The Produce Fairy” for a reason. He wakes up before anyone else I know, harvests vegetables while most of us are just eating breakfast, and lo! I turn around and there’s a bushel of pickling cukes  and 12 pounds of cabbage on our doorstep!

Due to The Produce Fairy’s generosity, I’ve started off the harvest/preserving season with a bang! Right now I have two batches of Kosher-style cucumber dill pickles and two batches of Sauerkraut lacto-fermenting! The pickles ought to be ready by next weekend, and the sauerkraut not long thereafter. I had to drive to South Royalton to the beer brewing supply section of the the market there to get more fermentation buckets and airlocks!

Starting this weekend, I will be turning the heat on the preserving season just a little ways up the road from us at Turkey Hill Farm. They have a nice all-stainless work kitchen set up, with a big multi-bay sink and this massive 4-burner, serious BTU output stove. The first thing on this to-do list will be Dilly Beans! So look for us at the Norwich Farmers market throughout August and September with an ever-expanding array of pickled goodies!

My own garden has just started producing. Yesterday I picked the first cukes (about 15 of them). A few days ago I picked the first tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. About a week ago I picked the first beans. Things are starting to move!

– Jaska