They can be seen on country roads. They park the car in the shade – usually the type with hatch back – pull easel, chair and supplies from the back and set up in a precise spot. They have driven up and down this road before and know exactly what angle, what location, what precise orientation to capture on canvas. The chair is for lunch, for resting the mind and the eyes and mostly for settling the body so that the senses may remain sharp.
The work begins. Layer by layer, the composition takes shape. One must think in reverse with paint, applying the background colors first and moving toward the foreground. The artist sees contour, light and shade before seeing things, trees and mountains. To the observer, and even to the novice, it seems an impossible task. So many hours into each painting. It requires so much patience, so many steps, so much accuracy. I do not have that patience, we think. Painting is at once art and science. Both demand adherence to a rigorous process.
The artist is not impatient about the outcome because the joy of the outcome is so intricately linked to the experience of the process. The final work reaches its full flavor, its full intensity and spirit, only by virtue of the steps that led to it. Every step still exists in the final image, but the image does not exist without the steps, nor does it speak with vigor to the observer who does not recognize and appreciate the steps.
Suddenly, I feel like I am writing a parable. In a way, I am, for the above observations, as you have guessed by now, apply to the art of food preparation, and particularly to the art of canning.
Canning cannot be done hastily and it does not tolerate shortcuts. This is the beauty of the process, that it requires one set aside some time. This is not time we take lightly. It is art; not an art, but art itself. We take raw materials from the garden and transform them into rich nourishment. There is a lot of the artist invested in this process and the fact that necessary steps are required between harvesting and finally placing each color-filled jar on the shelf is a sort of rite of passage, every time.
First, the jars and lids are washed, rinsed and sterilized in a large pot of boiling water. The very precision of this process makes it a sort of sacred and very personal ritual. The produce was carefully selected, cut and prepared and each jar is filled to precisely the right level. Then they are sealed; not corked or closed or topped, sealed. This is a powerful word. Like a wax seal on an official letter, bearing the mark of its noble author. Finally, the jars are heated again. It is a clean, impeccable process.
Canning is truly an act of taking life into our own hands. The artist fills the canvas with color and life that inspires and satisfies the observer’s hunger for beauty and a fresh perspective. The cook, professional or foodie, fills glass receptacles with color and life that both inspire and provide vigor.
There is a reason food photographers take so many pictures of canning jars filled with every imaginable fruit and vegetable: Beauty. Two reasons actually: Beauty and bounty. These remind us of our heritage. Even if we know little about farming and the old ways, the vibrant colors in each jar, which somehow always catch the light in a manner that mesmerizes the eye, speak volumes about the miracle of each harvest.