Like the good book says, it is a fine thing to love thy neighbors. Especially if thy neighbors share your love of food.
We love Chris and Glennis, who live next door. I’ve written about Chris and his smoker, his epic pork shoulders, in previous posts. And now there was time and cause to give his wife her due turn.
I’ve got a great admiration for people who preserve their own foods. There’s a guy here in our canyon who sets up an umbrella on the side of the road, a few homemade signs, and sells his “Soon to Be Famous Hot Sauce.” I often stop — I like the guy and it’s good sauce. My friend, Tracy, in Nashville apparently makes “world famous” hot sauce, although my efforts to get her to send me a bottle have been met with abject failure. (“Can I at least get on a waiting list!?” I inquired…)
My own efforts at preserving have primarily involved drying things — mushrooms, mostly — or salting and curing as in French duck confit or Italian guanciale. And there have been brief flirtations with fermentation, as in my epic adventure into the death-defying world of kim chi. But canning is an area where I have no experience. I’ve always been fearful I’ll do something wrong in the process and wind up poisoning my loved ones. So I was pleased one day when several jars of pickles and preserves arrived from Glennis next door.
They were as beautiful as I imagined they would be delicious — a painter’s palette of oxblood red beet relish, carnival warm hues of confetti sweet pickled peppers, translucent jade bread & butter pickles and luminous ketchup with the exotic accent of east Indian spices. Set on the windowsill, the morning sun filtered through the jars and cast stained-glass-window reflections on the white countertop. My children lit into the bread & butters at once, which were gone in a matter of hours. I sampled each of the jars over the course of the next several days, stirring the ketchup into sauces and spooning the peppers on top of bratwursts. As a cook, it’s fun to have new influences unexpectedly introduced into one’s cuisine.
“Dad, should we get more of Glennis’ pickles?” my 5-year-old daughter, Willa, asked when the jar of bread & butter had run out. “Sweetie,” I said, “It’s not like a store, you don’t just go get them.” Nonetheless, when my wife sent her next door to return the empty jars, she came back with three more full jars of sweet peppers, beet relish and spicy ketchup. “This was all she had left.”
There can be no better gift than food. And even better, food you have made yourself. And there’s no better gift you can give your children than instilling in them an appreciation for that gift. A jar of my mother’s wild blackberry jam is greeted with the same enthusiasm as would meet a new Barbie or box of Legos.
One day I may add canned goods to my edible-gift repertoire of fresh baked bread, rilletes, eggs from our chickens… In the meantime, I’m content to accept the benevolent offerings of a good neighbor — a smoky chunk of pork shoulder slathered in spicy vinegar sauce from Chris, a glorious jar of vibrant preserves from Glennis. Robert Frost may have said that good fences make good neighbors. But good pickles make even better neighbors.