I follow a wonderful blog called Eating Niagara, a website devoted to local eating and agriculture in the Niagara area that has made a big impact on me. What inspires me most about Eating Niagara is their passion for the pursuit of good food and the honest way they share it with their readers. Through Tiffany Mayer and Erin Wilson I feel as though I have become acquainted not only with their recipes, community of food producers and chefs, but with their wonderful way of living. By appreciating the quality and simplicity of local food, Eating Niagara models a way of being in the world that embodies how I feel about ruralist values. Eating Niagara reminds me daily of what is most important in life – community, stewardship, sharing, and friendship.
Niagara in Jars
While reading a recent blog post I happened to come across an ad for a unique Niagara event. I confess, this event took me completely by surprise. Not only does it stand out in sharp contrast to the typical types of commercialized community gatherings I am used to, Niagara in Jars honors a tradition that even among the most committed ruralists I know, is a rarity.
Niagara in Jars is a free canning swap held at Rise Above Bakery in St. Catherines. Participating in Niagara in Jars is simple and straighforward: “Please label your jars. Just a name of what’s inside is fine unless there are any common allergens, so people can have the heads up. So dairy, nuts, wheat flour — the usual suspects. Bring as many items as you want. It doesn’t just have to be canned goods. If you dried tomatoes or hot peppers — or anything else — and have tons to spare, bring those. You’re a soap maker, great! Folks have to eat but personal hygiene is also a tradable commodity here. You will be given a ticket for each item that you bring to swap and that ticket is your currency to choose something someone else brought.”
I have to admit, the idea of swapping preserves kind of took me by surprise. I’ve done my share of cookie exchanges and potluck dinners, but as someone who grew up overwhelmed by countless rules, regulations and fears about everything imaginable, a canning swap just seems so unrestrained and refreshing! There is no license to buy or exam to take before you can participate, imagine – no red tape!
I have only ever tried my hand at one small batch of canned peaches (that I was pretty stingy about sharing, come to think of it), so I would not classify myself as an experienced canner. Making preserves is a lot of work, and giving away your canned goods is a little like giving someone a piece of yourself. Maybe it’s the steamy kitchen and the sticky jars or the endless peeling of fruit, but after all that work it seems so intimate to share your home canning with just anyone, let alone a stranger. For this reason the idea of Niagara in Jars struck me as really wonderful. And in some small way, Niagara in Jars renewed a little of my faith in humanity.
Tradition and Selflessness
Niagara in Jars is about so much more than just trading your extra jars of pickles for someone’s strawberry jam. In order for this event to be a success, you need several important ingredients, and these ingredients seem to be rare commodities these days. First and foremost you need to find enough people who actually make excess preserves, and that’s that’s no easy task. Second, these people must be willing to actually share their bounty with others, which involves a certain amount of selflessness. And finally, everyone must trust that everyone else has prepared a product worthy of sharing.
So you see why this event is special: not only does it pays respect to a timeless tradition of food preparation, but it involves valuing community and trusting one another. Perhaps what struck me most was that the spirit of the Ruralist is embodied in the very essence of Niagara in Jars: trust, honesty, quality and commitment.
Thank you Eating Niagara for providing leadership and inspration to your community, for creating a place where rual values and traditions are celebrated and for allowing us to see ourselves reflected in your stories and recipes. Your spirit of generosity and love of good food is truly an inspiration.
If after reading this you have felt some inspiration of your own and want to do some preserving, watch this short clip from Bernardin, or simply visit your local library and pick up a book or two and get canning (and sharing).