Written by Shana Thornhill Tuesday, 14 August 2012 13:08
To borrow an antiquated phrase, “I got skillz.” Of course, the English expert in my head insists that I rephrase that as “I have skills.” Apparently though, I don’t have enough skills yet.
Even though I’ve learned how to process chickens, how to raise rabbits, and (hopefully) not stab myself in the foot, I have much to learn. I’ve been taking a certain amount of pride in roasting one of those home-raised chickens for dinner (and a few lunches) but what do I do when my husband says he’s tired of roasted...could I please make fried chicken?
I grew up like many of my generation: with a dim idea of chickens as feathery things, but the kind you ate came on a Styrofoam tray, in nice neat pieces that all looked the same.
Um, a whole chicken looks nothing like that. I don’t have a big meat cleaver to just whack the thing up into pieces. What did I do? I called up my intrepid mom to show me how to cut up a chicken. Even my mother-in-law was astounded to find out that I had to ask for help. At least now I know, and I do love to make fried chicken. My family loves to eat it, so it’s a win-win situation.
I love to can, too. I’ve made jams, jellies, preserves, salsa, you name it. So when the county fair rolled around, I seized the opportunity to make my awesome green tomato jam. No, it doesn’t include Jell-O. Everyone who’s eaten it urges me to enter it in a fair.
It’s a three-day process, and believe me, it’s worth it. I picked the tomatoes. I mixed it up. I followed the recipe...at least until the last day. I put the mix into the pot to boil down, and promptly forgot about it. I came in from doing chores smelling something burning. I’m surprised you didn’t all hear me hollering.
Yep, I scorched the living daylights out of that batch of jam. Not being one to waste food, I went ahead and canned it, thinking that it didn’t taste TOO bad and the kids wouldn’t mind it on their PB&Js. I put a jar into the fridge.
Folks, I have to tell you, when I went to use it the next day, it was like chipping cement. Of course, there was also about a quarter inch of burned goo on the bottom of my nice pot that took three days of soaking and chipping to get off, but that’s another story. At least the kids are willing to eat it.
In the meantime, I started another rush batch for the fair. After all, the judges wouldn’t want to taste scorch, would they? I fiddled with my recipe as much as I thought I could to hurry it along, all the while dreaming of the judges tasting my jam and going into fits of ecstasy.
I knew I’d have some stiff competition—after all, Mennonite girls can COOK! I followed the entry guidelines to the letter. I entered bright eyed and eager. I was a little surprised that there weren’t more entries, but I thought they were on the way.
I bit my knuckles all day until I could view the results. Finally, I got back and found a second-place sticker on my entry tag. I drooped.
Then I noticed the seal was still intact. Folks, my knees went a little weak. I’d busted my chops on this little bit of ambrosia, and I got a sticker because it had too much head space? They did mention that it had a nice color, but didn’t even taste it?
Heck, I could have canned up some salsa using store-bought tomatoes and peppers that would have a nice color too, but no taste. I guess I thought that fairs were all about judging the product, not the precision of head space.
So, the lack of tasting left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve never had a jar of jam go bad yet (even with extra headspace) except for the one that got way too old. Still, there was a laugh in the whole thing. When I was telling my mom about the batch that I scorched, she told me that semiliquid jam is called tender, while jam that sets up more than you wanted it to is called tough. I let out a mighty guffaw, and said, “Well, I just made jerky then!”