It is apple season here in Wisconsin. We live in a place with very harsh winters, late springs, and cold falls. In our city, the “snow/cold day” school cancellation policy doesn’t activate until -35F° (with windchill). My respect for the pioneers and settlers who tamed this bitterly cold wilderness is boundless. My admiration for their ability to stay alive and feed their families prompts me to want to connect with them and tap into their spirit. While food preservation is as old as recorded history, canning in this context seems to mean something more to me than just putting food up for the winter. Canning connects me to women of places like it this who came before me. Canning reminds me of their virtues and strength, and it inspires me to want to invest in my vocation as they invested in theirs.
Strangely, today it is often more expensive to can our food than to just buy it from the grocery store. Since we have trouble growing the kinds of tomatoes we like to can, we are grateful for the big tins of imported San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. Here, however, apples grow in plenty. Apple farmers in Wisconsin offer us dozens of varieties for less than a dollar per pound. While the apple sauce in the store is also from Wisconsin, it just bothers me if we do not make our own. Something about the plenty we have available seems to demand that I do something with that blessing. So, while it may or may not be about the same cost as store bought apple sauce, my husband and I pick and can apples as a lifestyle choice.
I have spent a big part of this week on my feet canning applesauce and apple butter in between homeschooling and chores. As tired as I have been, this work has nurtured a latent pioneer spirit within me. As I labor to steward our resources by capturing some of the October harvest, I feel an acute sense of healthy pride as well as keen gratitude for my very many blessings. Something about those jars signifies a promise. A promise that I make to labor for my family. A promise God has made to provide for me. A promise we make as a family to steward our resources. And a promise we make to support our local farmers.
Those tiny jars of apple butter demand hours of labor and a huge quantity of apples. So much work goes into each small jar. On Saturday, I spent nine hours on my feet while I peeled, chopped, cooked, seasoned and canned two large boxes of apples into a mere twelve quarts of applesauce, six pints of apple-cooking liquid and eight tiny, ½ pint apple butter jars. My children can eat a quart of applesauce in less than two days, so those twelve quarts will be stored with others like it, then will be carefully rationed out to last the winter.
Those tiny jars seem to be a spiritual metaphor for me. So much work and so much faith is necessarily poured into acts of hope and love. But when those jars are opened, blessings will pour out. Apples seasoned with love and labor will taste infinitely better than anything we can buy in the store, and will also serve as a powerful reminder of the fun that we had picking those apples as a family.
Those tiny jars remind me of how God works. He demands that we give Him everything but He returns to us something so much richer than what we started with. He takes our apples and peels away the tough skin so that mercy can invade. He trims out our blemishes and removes our selfish core. Then He reworks our apples into something magnificent. Something seasoned, sweetened, reduced, and refined by fire. Something worth pouring in a beautiful jar. And when the transformed apple is cooled, He stores it away until it is needed and the time is right for it to be poured out as a blessing. Those tiny jars remind me that He cares about everyone and everything, and that all things really do work for His glory.
Updated: readers have asked for our canning recipes and how we do it in our home. Peek inside our process here.