I have lost a lot of time these past few weeks slavishly working in the kitchen. I've filled so many jars with pickled asparagus, rhubarb date chutney, apricot jam and peach jam, I've run out of space to store them. I've got rhubarb pie in the freezer. It's about to be joined by a chard/spinach pie. Another jam session in a minute: strawberries. I am such a pig I nabbed two extra luscious pints from the local farm. I can't let go.
I have been making jam for 45 years and pickling for 35. It's become a habit, a reflexive response to summer. I started when there was no fresh food supply in winters of the frozen north, but my life changed since then. I get all the fresh food a body needs in January from local farms in California. Yet I still rush to preserve.
Nowadays I end up giving most of the jars away as gifts. There are actually folks who wait for them, expect them, can't get enough of them. They got me thinking I was slaving away for others--and the glory of their praises. It's nice to be wanted.
I do a lot less than I used to. I have learned the hard way. Decades ago famed salmon still swam into the Kennebec River of Maine and everyone flooded the fish markets to get it for July 4. It was then or never because the Kennebec salmon only swam up to spawn for two weeks. That was that. Two weeks was no time at all for such delicious fare, so I got attached to the idea of eating it. I decided I would save salmon. I researched, asked and tried for years to freeze it in such a way that it would taste like fresh fish but not even freezing it in a block of salt water as some experts advised made defrosted salmon taste good. Fresh Kennebec two week salmon would not let me hang on.
Then there were those little cold water shrimp that ran up the Maine coast every January filling boats up to the knees of the crew. You could buy pounds of them for nothing and you knew they'd make great shrimp salad in July if only you could hang on to them. I remember a lot of snowy night discussions about whether it was best to freeze the shrimp cooked or raw, with or without shells, in salt water or dry, because no method gave them the succulence of freshness. An Indian friend finally resolved this dilemma for me. "When they come into season," she said, "I eat as many as I can every day that I can until I am so full and sick or them, I don't want to see them for another year."
Now suddenly with a bizarre Eureka! I look at all these jars crowding my counter and closet and see what I have been doing all these years: still not letting go like that. The Buddha said impermanence (aka change) was the ultimate cause of all suffering and pain. Samsara is our continually repeated (aka habitual) effort to stop it, to attach and hang on to what's merely passing by. After decades on the meditation cushion, I discover the kitchen is the place where you can actually get it. Seasonal local eating, that's the mantra of impermanence right there. Waxing ecstatic about fresh strawberry rhubarb pie in June-- such a long wait!, eyes lighting up at a pile of Georgia peaches or Jersey tomatoes--yes again! Phew!, gorging on corn fresh from the nearby farm and never again until its fresh from the farm again next year, that's the practice. Impermanence doesn't get any clearer than this. Especially when you so easily see yourself trying to hang on.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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