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In one of my earliest memories, my great-grandmother sits in her dim basement, snapping green beans she raised in her own garden into a bowl in her lap to prep them for preserving—a necessary economic alternative to the grocery. She would later put the jars in a dark cupboard, where they sat as mysterious and repulsive to my eyes as if they had been lab specimens floating in formaldehyde. My mother—who broke the glass ceiling at her hospital pharmacy, where she was one of the first female managers—worked too many hours, on the other hand, to grow anything in our yard but grass, never mind fooling with old-school methods. We got our green beans out of a Del Monte can.
These days, every other restaurant—Black Market, Bluebeard, The Local, to name a few—offers some sort of pickle plate. Chefs have gussied up the homey craft of pickling, elevating it to artisanal status. But it’s not just restaurants; a legion of Ball jar–bearing practitioners have begun evangelizing preservation at home, too.
Comparisons to the artsy-craftsy cast of Portlandia aside, the renaissance of these types of “homesteading” traditions—canning, knitting, keeping chickens—has reached a critical mass here, and this month in the “Little Homestead in the City" cover feature, we offer plenty of ways to learn how to, say, make cheese in your kitchen or weave a rag rug. As I write this letter, I’m eating the carrots I learned to pickle myself thanks to one of those classes. I was surprised by how proud I felt as I packed the jar full of golden vegetables and heard the pop! of the lid sealing as it was lifted from the boiling-water bath. I made this! There’s a satisfaction in being able to provide for yourself, something that my great-grandmother understood.
During the workshop, I also learned from the instructor, Suzanne Krowiak, that my great-grandmother’s process probably wouldn’t pass muster with the FDA these days. Sure, no one in my family ever died from botulism, but farming practices (including the rise of pesticides) have changed since then, possibly affecting today’s soil and the produce pH levels on which safe canning relies. “Time,” Krowiak explained, “has been the enemy of certain methods.” We’re thankful, though, that many of those traditions—as this issue attests—are still alive and well.
Amanda Heckert is the editor-in-chief of Indianapolis Monthly.
This article appeared in the April 2014 issue.
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