• I had a wonderful week in Madison this past week, mostly at the Holy Wisdom Monastery for my annual retreat, but also spending several evenings with Alison, Nelson, and granddaughter Isobel.
  • Jie and I also got away for a 24-hour visit to see our other grandchildren (today and tomorrow), Sean and Maple.
  • My mom spent a few days in the hospital this past week, still not doing well with her medications after having heart surgery about 6-weeks ago.  I think I'm going to have to call the doctor myself tomorrow and do some advocacy.  She is still feeling very poorly this weekend.

October 13, 2019
Pickles and Peppers
It is almost time to bring in the last of the garden harvest before frost arrives.  This year's successes included a glut of tomatoes, cucumbers, gigantic radishes, and hot peppers.  Everyone wanted the tomatoes, so they were easy to move along.  And Jie ate up the whole row of gigantic foot-long radishes.  But the surplus cucumbers and hot peppers were another matter.  It is surprising what looks...or words people come up with in order to decline a free bag of hot peppers.
I wasn't all that excited about hot peppers myself.  And when I started my garden seedlings indoors (Mid-March...about 400 plants) I had high hopes for the cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, marigolds, and sweet peppers.  But alas, virtually the only things that survived my indoor greenhouse were the HOT peppers...about 25 plants.  Not a one of them died.
Since I reckoned I only needed one or two hot pepper plants, I had to make an executive decision: about whether to euthanize nearly two dozen hot pepper plants...(throw them in the street and let cars run over them?)...or plant all 25.  Being a kind and merciful sort of fellow, I decided to plant them all. But I deviously decided to put them in the part of the garden where nothing has grown the past 3 years.  
Surprisingly, not only did all 25 plants survive there..but they thrived and produced mightily.  What to do with all the hot peppers?   I tried to give them away.  But the only two people I could get to take them off my hands were Dan and Mark (participants in my Tuesday night Bible Study.)  The more Dan and Mark outdid each other bragging about their love of hot-hot-hot peppers, however, the more I wondered if the two of them had some sort of psychological problem...and maybe I shouldn't be enabling them.  
So I packed up a peck of peppers and hauled them to Madison last week, to have my daughter Alison help me make pepper sauce out of them...canning the liquid for future use.  I've never canned anything before, but Alison assured me that she had.  With confidence in my daughter, I also toted my excess cucumbers along.  We could can dill pickles. 
The woman on the YouTube video said that we didn't really need to can the hot pepper sauce...that it would survive for years in the refrigerator.  And so, we cut up the peck of peppers...gagged for about an hour on all the fiery pepper molecules floating around in the air...cooked them down, and sampled our sauce...almost two gallons of it. It was impossibly hot to eat.  I calculate that by the time we dilute it enough to make it edible, we'll end up with about ten gallons of the stuff.  Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas ...for the next 12 years.  We decided to wait and can it at later date...since it will probably still be good for several months...and no one is likely to eat it all up right away.
We were more excited to can the dill pickles.  But the deeper we got into the canning process, the more clear it became to me that Alison really didn't know any more about canning than I did.  So we both sat down with her copy of  The Joy of Cooking (each daughter got a copy of that book from me when she left home) in order to deepen our knowledge of the process.  Our joy quickly turned to anxiety as Alison read out loud:  "Great care must be exercised when canning...to prevent the development of the lethan botulism toxin.  Because the spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum that produce..."  The main word I heard was lethal.
Alison read on:  "How can botulism be detected in canned foods?  That can prove to be difficult, since it may be present even if no odor, gas, color change, or softness in food texture is discovered...so become familiar with the guidelines for "Checking for Spoilage on page 892."  

So, Alison read page 892 with trepidation in her voice:  "if any of the following indications of spoilage is evident, DO NOT TASTE THE FOOD, and immediately follow the directions given on page 893, HANDLING CONTAMINATED FOOD AND JARS"  
All I can recall at this writing is that I am going to need to buy some new hazmat clothing, safety googles, and garbage can with a lock on it.  

Alison and I are looking at each other wondering if we shouldn't just throw all the cucumbers in the garbage now...rather than risk poisoning not only the whole family...but also all the wildlife in Southern Wisconsin and Central Illinois. ( Joy of Cooking did actually warn us about poisoning wildlife if we did not dispose of poisoned canned goods properly.)
But we bravely went ahead with the project, reminding each other of all the signs we need to look out for in a few weeks...when the pickles should be both pickled enough to taste good...and deadly enough to wipe out our family.  We now have 10 jars of dill pickles...and a month to get our wills up to date.

We ended the canning process by watching an Andy Griffith rerun, the one about Aunt Bea making the judges at the county fair nauseated with her canned pickles.
There is a biblical concept: with many blessings come many responsibilities.  Until this past week, I just never thought about it in terms of pickles and peppers.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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