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The Art of Preserving

I once heard a wise woman talk about enjoying things during times of want that had been stocked up in times of plenty. Like myself, she was a gardener. She told a tale of a lovely patch of strawberries. I could tell she was incredibly proud of this patch and I understood why. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from hard work flourishing and growing into a great bounty. Most people who take on the toil of seeing this process through to a harvest also find ways to preserve some of this seasonal glory. At least that is the case for me.

I, like many gardeners, have taken to learning the art of canning. It wasn’t until moving to our current home that I had room for enough plants to have extra produce left over for storage. I had only tried small preservation tasks at our old location. We rented a home for many years that had one lone mulberry tree growing in the corner of the yard. Once I discovered it, everyone knew not to bother mom during mulberry season. I would get up early to pick berries before taking the kids to school and then heading to work. And when I got home, I would check to see what new berries had readied themselves during the day. Aside from my busied schedule every spring, my stained fingertips were also a good indicator of what time of year it was. My children likely thought I was a little obsessed. But that opinion would always change with the expectation and joy of mulberry pie come Thanksgiving and Christmas! So I was overjoyed to find mulberry trees when we moved to our current home. Even though our children were grown and leaving for lives of their own, mulberries were a memory of their childhood for all of us.

When our daughter moved across country, I baked her a mulberry pie to take with her on the long road trip. That, in turn, helped create one of my favorite pictures. It’s a picture of her on a late-night travel stop, having a few moments of rest before the next leg of the journey. She was tired and road worn, but very happily eating mulberry pie.

When an infusion is turned into jelly, and that jelly is warmed by toast on a frigid winter morning, it becomes the taste of the sweetness that lingers in the airs of May. Gina Sutphin

When we moved to our current home on a large plot of land, discovering the number of things that could be stored away to anticipate for later became a personal mission. I captured the scent of a spring breeze by making an infusion with flowers from the honeysuckle bush. When an infusion is turned into jelly, and that jelly is warmed by toast on a frigid winter morning, it becomes the taste of the sweetness that lingers in the airs of May. I captured the emerald green color of summer’s leaves and grass through the blanching of green beans processed in my pressure canner. I captured the amber hues of fall through the process of caramelizing pears into a rich butter, warmed and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. And these colorful jars progressively filled our shelves throughout the growing season. But then came the winter, and the earth had nothing left to give.

This morning I was thinking about that wise woman I heard tell of her strawberry patch. Her tale also told of a joyful morning spent eating strawberry jam on biscuits with her children. It was an overflowing bounty from two seasons before. And even though there had been strawberries in the current season, she had been unavailable to pick them. Events of great sorrow had set things into motion that caused her to be away during the harvest. But like the wise woman of Proverbs 31, she had food that she had brought with her from afar. And now, while it was yet still night in her life, she was rising and providing joy on biscuits for herself and her children.

I may have become good at the craft of preserving when it applies to fruits and vegetables, but I’m not so good at doing it in the area of personal joy and happiness. Joy can be experienced in the moment, but it seems to slip away like sand through my fingers. I can be prone to letting discontentment be a more normal state in the day to day living of life. I long for that to change, so I’m trying to take lessons from people like this wise woman. I’m trying to learn how to preserve joy in the same way I have preserved these jars of mulberries and pears.

It’s winter here in Ohio. The earth is cold and waiting for its next season of plenty. But here on this chilly morning, with thoughts of those strawberry jam-laden biscuits swirling in my head, I pulled some mulberries from the freezer. A cobbler was made, and without any current signs of life from the mulberry tree out back, its fruits were enjoyed and brought happiness even though the tree currently has nothing it can offer.

I want my heart to be more like the preserved fruits of the mulberry tree. My prayer is that I can have a greater trust in the Gardener and his methods of helping me have a greater harvest. With a greater and deeper harvest of joy and happiness, there will be extra lingering on beyond the moment. Then, in times when I am currently depleted and have nothing new to give, it will be there waiting for me. It will be tucked away in those pretty jars on the shelf of my heart, and there will bounty ready to open and enjoy and share with those around me.


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