On December 31, 2009, as I was bidding the old year adieu at Bosco’s Bones and Brew in Sunol, a young man dressed in the scrappy garb of a 21st-century urban homesteader came into the bar carrying a box filled with unlabeled jars of home-canned pickles. One by one, he started passing out the jars to perplexed partiers. As I gratefully accepted the gift pictured below, I asked the man if perhaps he was launching a pickling business. Not at all, he replied. “I’m just giving these to people as a way of telling them that they can do it too!”
The young pickler was soon gone into the night, leaving me without further opportunity to decipher whether he was a seer, a teacher, or an eager acolyte. But seven months later, I can tell you I have no doubt that he is part of a home canning craze that is well under way. Right now, at the height of the summer harvest, my sense is that people are putting up produce at a rate that has not been seen in half a century. So what is this all about?
I would say it’s about a shift in values—a renewed appreciation for the work of both growing and crafting food for our tables. It’s also about the reality of our local growing seasons—different things grow at different times.
Then too, it’s about the joy of working together as community to bring in the harvest and preserve it for other times in the year when we will want to enjoy it. And it’s about the memories of good times together that will be bound up in those bottles of home canned goods. When we open those jars in the coming seasons, we get to celebrate our good work again.
Of course, it’s about having something to share, such as—a jar of pickles!
It’s interesting to recall that around a century ago, the East Bay was covered with orchards and gardens. Food grown here (specifically fruit) was being preserved at several large local canneries and shipped all over the country. Even as recently as three decades ago, orchards still predominated in the South Bay, in what is now known as Silicon Valley. To borrow a comment from Edible East Bay writer Tim Kingston, the urban farming that backs up the new canning craze could almost be seen as ghost farming by comparison, since our burgeoning home gardens and urban farms are but a shadow of the food grown here in the past.
Will urban farming ever become significant enough to feed the masses, as our former farms and orchards once did? That’s a question we hope to explore in upcoming issues of Edible East Bay, but for now, we’re just happy to see this return of appreciation for the work of providing food for ourselves and our communities.
Cheryl Angelina Koehler