Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dancing with Salsa

Peaches on the shelf
Potatoes in the bin
Supper's ready, everybody come on in
Taste a little of the summer
Taste a little of the summer
You can taste a little of the summer
My Grandma's put it all in jars.
Ah, she's got magic in her—you know what I mean
She puts the sun and rain in with her green beans.
—Lyrics from Canned Goods by Greg Brown, who grew up in Iowa

While some people make their way to nightclubs to dance the Salsa, right now I'm dancing all day and into the night making Sandhill salsa.

August is tomato month in the Midwest, and the red, round, ripe beauties are arriving in our kitchen by the bucket load these days. There were four 5-gallon buckets that landed yesterday (Emily assured me it was a "light" picking), which means I barely kept my head above water, as I labored for 10 hours to turn 4-1/2 buckets worth into 18 quarts of juice and 38 pints of tomato salsa. Today I'll work through another 4-1/2 buckets and just about get caught up. Tomorrow I'll switch my attention to tomatillos, which I'll roast—in accordance with Grandma Guiterrez' treasured family recipe—and blend into a different salsa. Olé!

By the time Thursday rolls around, I'll be happy to spend the day somewhere other than in the food processing kitchen. Like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, by Wednesday night I'll probably be seeing five-gallon buckets and canning jars dancing in my sleep (undoubtedly to the tune of a soft Cuban salsa syncopation thrumming in the background).

August and September on the farm are the two main months for transforming our garden bounty into a full root cellar, which is where we stockpile our canned goods for the winter days days ahead. Buckets of raw products are imported into the kitchen one morning, and cases of canned sunshine are exported the next. While we buy the cumin seed, salt, and lemon juice that are accents in our salsa recipes, all of the main ingredients are grown on our farm, just a garden cart away.

When I go to see my Grandma I gain a lot of weight
With her hands she gives me plate after plate.
She cans the pickles, sweet & dill
She cans the songs of the whippoorwill
And the morning dew and the evening moon
'N' I really got to go see her pretty soon
'Cause these canned goods I buy in the store
Ain't got the summer in them anymore.

As a community networker and group process consultant, I'm on the road 60% of the time. As much as possible, I stay with friends and clients. So far, I've slept in 28 different places this year (plus a few motels). Often, I try to bring a jar of Sandhill summer as a thank you, and it's gratifying to see the sunshine reflected on my hosts' faces when they touch the jar. Greg Brown pretty much got it right.

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