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An Urban Farmer's Journal

Pickled Beets and Hymns in the Kitchen
by Helen D. Gunderson
September 3, 2011

There are beets in the refrigerator that I have just cooked and peeled. I got them at the North Grand Farmers Market this morning. I wash the stainless steel stock pot that I used to cook the beets.

I glance out the window. There is an evening glow following a day of gray skies, thunder, lightening, and a soaker rain. The garden needed the rain.

I saw the chickens a few minutes ago when I took beet scraps to the compost bin. I tossed a few to the chickens. They love greens.

I go to the basement, aware that my knees are aging, and bring back yellow onions that I bought at the market.

I peel the onions and cut them in half. My eyes burn and I sneeze.

I wonít be able to make it to Wheatsfield Coop by 7 pm when the hot, cafeteria bar closes. I detach from that deadline. I try to pay attention to the smells and texture of the onions and appreciate the farmers who grew them.

The onions are done and in the refrigerator. I sterilize jars in the dishwasher.

I hum the hymn, "Our God our help in ages past ..."

I search for canning lids. I whistle "Amazing Grace."

Itís nearing 8 oíclock. I put on my rain jacket. As I get on my bike, the hymn tune that keeps coming to me is "Winds be still ..."

It is 62 degrees, a far cry from the 99 degree weather earlier this week. As I ride south on Burnett under the canopy of tree branches, the cool air flows through my helmet.

Eating at the Wheatsfield deli gives me a sense of belonging like what I think the television series "Cheers" was all about.

It is 9:20 pm. I am home again. I turn the burner under the canning pot to high and will do two batches.

I wash my hands. I hum "My Bonnie lies over the ocean." I get the onions out of the refrigerator and slice them.

I put a pot of pickling syrup on the stove to boil then simmer. I slice the beets. Half go in the pot.

Gosh, the hour is already 11 pm. Yes, Helen, enjoy and be present. Yes, Helen, try to be efficient and not stay up too late.

And, donít forget to sterilize the jar lids.

I prepare the first batch of seven jars.

I get clean dish cloths and towels from the dryer. When I return, one of my cats, Shimmer, is snuggled on a bureau near the kitchen door, watching and waiting. She likes to sleep with me and is probably thinking it is time for me to go to bed.

I wash utensils and hum the hymn "For I believe in love." The warm, soapy water feels wonderful on my hands.

Micah, the mother of my three other cats, is lying relaxed atop the refrigerator. I touch my forehead to her face. I open the bedroom windows, pull down the wall bed, and throw a quilt over it that my gardening grandmother, DeElda, made. I place a pillow at the head and return to the kitchen.

I prepare the second batch of beets.

Itís a hurry-up-and-wait time.

Patience, Helen.

The timer buzzes. I remove the first set of jars from the bath and load the second batch into the bath.

The hour is 1:35 pm. Yikes.

I sing, "We will have these moments to remember ..."

I like canning but am exhausted.

One of the jar lids pings, and I realize that the first seven jars have sealed successfully. I put them on racks in a cupboard to cool overnight, safe from cat traffic.

The buzzer buzzes again.

Itís 2:53 am.

I put the second batch of jars in the cupboard.

I turn off the lights and fan in the kitchen.

I brush my teeth and head for the bedroom. Shimmer is still on the bureau in the living room. Micah is on the bed. I read from a book about Celtic spirituality and belonging, check email, turn off the lights, and climb in under the quilt. I suspect Micah and Shimmer will join me.

It is a good night.
  

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