A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
Clearly, Alexander Pope was not a skilled do-it-yourselfer, where a little learning motivates great — or at least good enough — things.
We at Culinaria Eugenius were full of a little learning this week, or rather the action-adventures of our swashbuckling preservation team.
In the accident haze, and, I’ll admit, in many months before the accident as I labored away and at home on academic pursuits, I lost that intimate and lovely control of my kitchen. I didn’t have a clear sense of what was in my pantry, or hiding in the back of my refrigerator, or how many jars had been returned or washed and stuck in the cupboards in the outer Hebrides. I depended on a group of others to provide me with everything and anything, including most of my meals, which had become a source of anxiety and not pleasure or pride.
Alienated from cooking, as it were. A misguided food-hating feminist’s dream, perhaps, but not mine.
And because of this temporary hiatus from my labor of love, as I start cooking again without assistance or a firm understanding of what remains in my kitchen, hilarity and madcap hijinks ensue.
Canning folk often rhapsodize about the pleasing “ping” sound of jars sealing after you take them out of the hot water bath. I learned there’s a most unpleasing, higher-toned “plink” sound of breaking jars in boiling water.
It happened at one of those moments in which you are thoroughly exhausted — many hours of boiling down tomato pulp into ketchup, fussing with the spice profile mid-boil after not being able to find the right spices, the cheesecloth, the other cheesecloth, learning the housekeeper had used the cheesecloth as a rag, discovering not one but two of the jars had chips on the rim as you were wiping said rims after filling jars, the boiling and spattering ketchup is bitter — how? why?, more sugar?, limping out to the outer Hebrides to find the damn immersion blender, trying to find two more jars which have to be somewhere in here, you’re out of lids and have to limp back to the outer Hebrides, etc., etc. — and finally, you drop in the two remaining half-pints using your fingers because you misplaced the jar lifter in all that commotion, and…
…like that stain on your very soul, you see the thin ribbon of red spreading through the boiling water, and you know you have about three seconds to crutch over to the cabinet to get a bowl, find a ladle, and scoop the damn jar out of the water before it turns your canner into an impromptu spaghetti sauce.
And sure, you could have called your neighbor to see if she had two teaspoons of Pomona pectin on hand when you realized you only had half of the pectin you needed after the tayberry jam was already boiling and about two minutes from being finished, and, of course, you can’t drive out to the store anyway, given the leg. But instead, you do what anyone with a little learning would do: started messing around.
Because it was low-sugar jam, you don’t have the option to just boil it down. You ponder adding more sugar, but can’t measure the fruit pulp at that point, it being boiling and all, so you surmise that the aluminum water (already added) might react with another kind of pectin. Luckily, you have a jar of apple pectin stock jelly on hand! And more quince stock pectin in the freezer. You add both, hoping for the best…
…and it’s the best tayberry-quince syrup ever, and 14 half-pints of it.
But tasty, no? And a thick, molasses syrup, so you were at least partially right.
So to Mr. Alexander Pope, I say:
LET THEM DRINK NOT FROM THE PIERIAN SPRING; LET THEM DRINK SYRUP.
We tried it and we liked it, over zucchini pancakes. And not a single mishap.
On this Labor Day, may all your labors be recognized, your pickles an art form, your jam jellied, your ketchup free of glass shards, and your work a source of healing. May you be well enough to do the things you love, to pray with your feet, to turn your poetry into action, and to feed a challenge to the status quo.