Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yes, We Can!

Written by Joan

The Catholic worker house was filled with the sounds, sights and smells of people learning to can vegetables and fruits last Wednesday, August 12. Our canning class was a resounding sucesss thanks mostly to our new friend, Melissa Welch.

Melissa's expertise in food preservation, gained from a lifetime of personal experience, and her awesome talent as a teacher provided all of us students with the skills we needed to go home and start canning our produce with confidence.

Melissa arranged the class in such a way that every student got hands-on experience in every step of the process. With her clear and formidable voice she was able to instruct us as we worked and answer every question asked. No time was wasted as we peeled, cut, stuffed our produce into jars and cooked it in the canning kettle. It was mad and merry and lots of fun.

Our students were an enthusiastic group of men and women, including some whom we'd not known before as well as some folks who we did know, such as Suzanne, one of our gardeners; Peggy, our world-traveled visitor from the east coast who's had many interesting tales to tell; cool-headed Erin who handled a lot of the logistics and publicizing of the class; and me [Joan] and the raffish young man who is my beloved son. And at the end we all went home with the fruits of our labor--a jar of canned tomatoes and one of chunky applesauce, the memory of a delightful evening spent with new-found friends and the knowledge that, yes, we can do this!

Melissa generously offered to provide another class in early September, probably covering dill pickles and salsa, so we are all looking forward to that. She also offered private tutoring in her own kitchen to anyone who was interested!

I think it was interesting the way this class came to be. About a month ago, I was working in our community garden alongside a neighbor, one of the Erin's. I said to her, "You know, before too long we're going to have more veggies here than than we'll be able to eat. Wouldn't it be good if we could have a canning class so we could learn how to put some of it up for future use?"

She agreed, but neither of us knew anyone who knew how to can food. Not five minutes later a woman wandered into the garden accompanied by her little doggie. I went over to her to say Hi and it turned out that she lived nearby and came to visit the garden every day while she walked her dog.

As we strolled around she commented on the growing veggies: "That'll be ripe in a couple of weeks. These need to be picked now. Oh, those are very nice beets." And so forth. "Hmm, "I thought, "this is a woman who really knows about gardening."

So I asked her, "By any chance, do you know how to can food?" She laughed and said she'd grown up on a farm and had been doing it since she was a child. And that's how we met Melissa, our wonderful canning coach.

Isn't serendipity a delightful thing? And isn't working convivially with other people, doing something useful and good, a holy thing even if it may not seem particularly holy at the time (as your tomato skins pile up on the counter and the juice starts dripping onto the floor)? I think so. It reminds me of this:

"Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the dance said He!"

If you don't know this song, here are some suggestions: A rather gentle version with Donovan, clear, lively version with Barley Bree, a robust, audience-assisted version with Jim McCann, the Dubliners or Tommy Makem.

Please do join us in the next dance at the Catholic Worker House. We'll be having canning day on August 30 from 2:30 till however long you can stay. No experience necessary; you can learn as you work. This food will be used for hospitality at the House and as gifts for our Spanish ESL friends. Another canning class is planned for early September which will probably cover dill pickles and salsa; the exact day has not yet been determined.

And after that - who knows?

"True love is delicate and kind, full of gentle perception and understanding, full of beauty and grace, full of joy unutterable. There should be some flavor of this in all our love for others. We are all one."
---- Dorothy Day - co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement

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