Canning Sunshine

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I got a call from my sister saying a family friend had an abundance of juice oranges on her tree, and would I like some? YOU BETCHA! I figured I’d go over and get a bag or two, have some fresh-squeezed OJ for my family, and just enjoy this aspect of living in Southern California in the late winter months.

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It was a gorgeous day; sun shining, just enough warmth in the air to allow me to take off my light jacket and work on my farmers tan. Whispy cumulous clouds gave the vivid blue sky a bit of character and provided a lovely backdrop when I looked up through the tree’s branches to reach for fruit hanging from higher limbs. The succulent scent of orange blossoms perfumed the air around me, and I felt a rare, peaceful joy in the simplistic pleasure of harvesting such a citrusy abundance.

After filling the first bag for my hostess, I got to work. I picked and picked and picked. She was happy to have me take as many as I wanted as she couldn’t use them and would rather have someone enjoy the oranges than pick them off the ground after they’d gone rotten. Soon I’d filled a wheelbarrow full and I didn’t even have a fraction of the fruit off the tree.

After a bit over an hour and a half of work, she called me in for lunch. Our friend is an amazing cook and made me one of the best sandwiches I’d ever eaten. Her elderly mother was visiting and made some delicious sweet pickles we enjoyed with our homey meal. It was so comforting to be in the company of these ladies, women my mom’s and grandmother’s ages, as my own mother is recovering from a serious health crisis and I’ve not had anyone ‘take care’ of me like that for months.

These talented home cooks nurtured a place in my heart that day I’d been overlooking for a long while. They made me remember the days I’d spent with my maternal grandma making strawberry jam, the days my mom and I peeled apples for hours to put up dozens of pints of applesauce, the afternoons my paternal grandmother sat me down and whipped up the MOST amazing BLTs in the world while we conversed about everything and nothing. I remembered the link in my mind and heart between good, homemade food, great company, and casual but meaningful conversation.

Loading up my truck later on, I realized I’d gone a bit overboard even though I’d only picked about 2/3 of the tree–I had 14 grocery bags of fresh oranges! What was I to do with this blessing?

After looking online, I happened upon Yellowrock Country Girl’s post about canning orange juice.  I went to my sister’s house and employed the peeling and juicing talents of my newly recruited canning assistants (my family). The result was 19qts. of orange juice and 6 jars of the tastiest marmalade I’ve ever had. I grated and dehydrated a bunch of the zest to use in sweet breads and other recipes later on, then composted a few bags of the peels.

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It began, in earnest, my quest for simpler pleasures, for creating homegrown goodness, and a desire to pass along these everyday joys to my own children. Maybe someday they, too, will reflect on the time we spend together, creating something delicious, when they are in need of a comforting memory.

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