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The 'thunk' that symbolizes a fruitful summer

The sign of success when canning fruits and vegetables is a particular sound when the lids are tapped.

By Joan Donaldson / July 30, 2008



During late summer, canning consumes many of my afternoon hours. This past weekend, I put up peaches with one of our apprentices, Lydia, who came to experience life on our organic farm. She wanted to return to college with a case of canned goods to nibble on during the next term.

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"Looks like some of the jars did not seal," Lydia said. Some of the syrup had bubbled out of a jar during the hot water bath required to can its contents.

"It's sealed, just sticky," I said, showing Lydia the indentation of the lid and tapping it. "See that depression. Hear that thunk." I had memorized that thud as a child when my mother canned tomatoes.

In order to cook and can tomato juice and stewed tomatoes, my family drove out into the country on a Sunday afternoon. At a rough shed, my mother and father selected a bushel of squatty Beefsteak tomatoes, and picked up a peck of Paula Red apples.

Because I left for school the next morning, the craft of canning remained a mystery performed in my absence.

But when I returned, the tomatoes glowed from inside quart jars that rested on worn towels. Pulling a chair over to the counter, I stood on it while tapping each jar with a spoon. I bent my head to listen for that dull clunk that my mother had demonstrated.

I rediscovered that sound the summer before I married. My friend, Margo, and I shared a job as companions for an elderly woman. Because Margo was bound for graduate school and a garret apartment, and I wanted to fill a pantry for my future husband, we determined to can everything: We stuffed bread and butter pickles, wild strawberry jam, cherry jelly, spiced peaches, and even gooseberries into pint jars for Margo and quarts for me. We fantasized about our futures as art historian and fruit farmer as we lifted jars from the steaming kettle. We listened for the click of the lids as the jars cooled and sealed. And we tapped the lids with our fingernails, checking for that thud and the feel of the depression.

Many years have passed since Margo and I bought "The Ball Blue Book of Canning," which I lent to Lydia. Now her hands peel peaches as we discuss when to can applesauce. The gold jar rings sparkle as she leans over and taps the lids, memorizing that thunk that preserves both peaches and the fruitful days of summer.

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