Savoring summer in the depths of winter

Canning cherry juice in winter feels like an anachronism. During the summer harvest season, canning kettles reside in a corner of my kitchen. My family is reminded which week of summer we are experiencing by the contents of the jars cooling on the counter. Strawberry jam celebrates the first day of summer; come midsummer, cucumber slices sit in crockery bowls and fill the air with the scent of vinegar and dill. Most Julys I can cherry juice, a job that demands hours of stoking my wood cookstove. My family gathers the cherries the night before and leaves them in cool water. Before dawn I have the first jars simmering in a hot water bath, and by lunchtime I lift the final jars from the kettles.

The August air is thick with humidity as I stuff peaches and pears into mason jars and listen to the trill of wrens or the call of the cardinals. By the end of September, I am weary of preserving the harvest, and I am thankful when the last jar of salsa is sealed and stored in the pantry.

Last year I was away during cherry season, so my husband plunked a bucket of cherries into our freezer. With so many other farm and homestead chores to complete in the fall, I conveniently forgot about the bucket until winter blew in. The bucket's presence in my freezer nagged my conscience, though, and I knew I must complete the laborious job.

One wild, wintry day last year, I thawed out the bucket ... and smelled summer. The hours of canning no longer seemed to drag, as they did in the humidity of July. I had discovered a treasure. This year, I planned my day of canning according to the weather forecast.

In the depths of winter here, the stove purrs constantly and a steaming kettle helps to drive the dryness from our home. While snowflakes fly, I dump cherries into half-gallon jars, toss in some fructose, and fill the jar with the cherries' juice. My canaries sing. and the zebra finches fuss about something. Steam creeps across frosty windows, and the fragrance of hot fruit permeates the house, reviving memories of orchards in picking time. The kettles hiss and spit as the jars softly rattle.

Outside, the birds fluff their feathers and flick away snow as they search for birdseed scattered by the blue jays. A lake-effect storm has left us snowbound. Wind tosses sheets of show off the pines surrounding our house, and the world is enveloped in white. The strings for the now-dead morning glories are ice covered; they rattle against the greenhouse windows.

Seed catalogs are spread across the kitchen table, waiting for that pause between kettle loads when I can feast on the colorful photos and plan the new year's garden. While putting up produce in the summer yields gratitude and a sense of completion, canning on a frigid day in winter offers renewed hope of the best harvest yet to come.

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