Jam canning class

Class #3 at Trade School Geneva. Notes on Class #1 here, and #2 here.

I’m very happy with how things went. We had about 50% attendance which I’m going to blame on the heavy rain (I had to drag myself into town, and I was the one teaching the damn class!) but this meant that the four people who braved the tempest were truly dedicated to canning jam. There were kitchen stories told and a bottle of wine polished off, and announcements were made all around of weekend plans involving canning. (Except for me — I’m getting the hell out of this rain-soaked, sorry excuse for a summer and down to where the sun is shining.)

The recipe we used was Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam, times four, with half the vanilla bean. Also I wound up accidentally (I think — maybe the grocery shop mislabeled their peaches) buying half yellow peaches and half white peaches, which I discovered when I tore into one for a snack while walking home from the shop. No biggie, because I had time to figure out what to do to remedy this dire situation. White peaches are lower in acid than yellow, so I would need to up the acid content in the recipe to ward off bacterial growth. I did some high-level mathematical calculations to figure out that adding a scant tablespoon of lemon juice per jar would do it, judging that we would get about 10 jars from the recipe.

That was another thing I liked about doing this class. Converting an American recipe to metric, quadrupling it, and then having to figure out how many jars we would get with the quadrupled recipe given that the store was out of 200 mL jars, and the original recipe called for 1/2 pints, which is nearly the same as 200 mL but nowhere near 385 mL; then figuring out how much lemon juice to add given the total expected volume of the jam: All this required whipping out my 10th grade algebra, which since 1996 I’ve had the opportunity to use on a somewhat regular basis. Learn your math, kids!

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Reading & jam

1. From The Atlantic, “In 1858, People Said the Telegraph Was ‘Too Fast for the Truth‘”

Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes? How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column?


2. Also from The Atlantic: “The Health Benefits of Trees

3. “Meet the tenacious gardeners putting down roots in “America’s Most Desperate Town” (Yes magazine)


I’m teaching another class at Trade School Geneva tonight, this time on canning jam. We’re going to make Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam, which was my second choice after my plans for Cherry Preserves with Honey and Rosemary fell through — I had to nix that after I went to the store and found that we are officially past cherry season. Perhaps it’s for the best. I think if I put the students to work pitting 3 kilos of cherries I would have a mutiny on my hands. Peeling peaches is less risky for group leaders.

I found those two recipes in a search for jam made with a sweetener other than sugar, because I haven’t yet found a locally produced sugar and every time I’ve made jam with the mass market kind coming from who knows where a little part of me cries, “This is not right!” Pouring imported sugar over local apricots, something does not sit well with me there. (Granted there’s vanilla bean in the peach jam recipe, but I already had some in the pantry that I wasn’t using. And it’s organic and fair trade. That solves all ethical dilemmas, right?)

I haven’t yet gotten past the sugar thing in my jam making, but I will for tonight’s class. Convention might dictate that I should use a recipe I’ve made many times before and have mastered, but where’s the fun in that? Plus one of the beautiful things about TSG is that the teachers are not expected to be experts so I’m taking advantage of the environment to try something new.

In preparation for the class I’m also learning a lot of things I never knew before, reading up on all sorts of Science so I can explain with a modicum of authority why we do what we do when we can jam. It’s Botulism Appreciation Day here and tonight I’ll be sharing the knowledge.

Tree house update, July

Time for a growth report.


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Compared to March 19:


History repeating

Yesterday I reread A Room of One’s Own and closed the book profoundly depressed. Then Alvaro got home heated up about Gaza and bursting with the need to talk about it and everything else that’s wrong with the world because his coworkers don’t talk about these sorts of things. And that all depressed me even more, so after dinner I flung myself on the bed and stared at the ceiling for ages not being able to form a coherent thought in my head.

What depressed me in A Room of One’s Own (besides pretty much everything in it) was specifically the end.

How can I further encourage you to go about the business of life? Young women, I would say, and please attend, for the peroration is beginning, you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. … It is all very well for you to say, pointing to the streets and squares and forests of the globe swarming with black and white and coffee-coloured inhabitants, all busily engaged in traffic and enterprise and love-making, we have had other work on our hands. Without our doing, those seas would be unsailed and those fertile lands a desert. We have borne and bred and washed and taught, perhaps to the age of six or seven years, the one thousand six hundred and twenty-three million human beings who are, according to statistics, at present in existence, and that, allowing that some had help, takes time.

There is truth in what you say — I will not deny it. But at the same time may I remind you that there have been at least two colleges for women in existence in England since the year 1866; that after the year 1880 a married woman was allowed by law to possess her own property; and that in 1919 — which is a whole nine years ago she was given a vote? May I also remind you that most of the professions have been open to you for close on ten years now? When you reflect upon these immense privileges and the length of time during which they have been enjoyed, and the fact that there must be at this moment some two thousand women capable of earning over five hundred a year in one way or another, you will agree that the excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure and money no longer holds good. Moreover, the economists are telling us that Mrs Seton has had too many children. You must, of course, go on bearing children, but, so they say, in twos and threes, not in tens and twelves.

Thus, with some time on your hands and with some book learning in your brains — you have had enough of the other kind, and are sent to college partly, I suspect, to be uneducated — surely you should embark upon another stage of your very long, very laborious and highly obscure career. A thousand pens are ready to suggest what you should do and what effect you will have. My own suggestion is a little fantastic, I admit; I prefer, therefore, to put it in the form of fiction.

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young — alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.

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I’m in a reading mood this week more so than writing, which is slightly inconvenient because I’ve got an essay deadline on July 30 and another deadline for a project proposal at the end of this week. But I’m not overly worried about getting them done, so for today at least I’m going with the flow.

On my list are some old favorites that I feel a push to reread (again, for the tenth time):

The Storyteller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov, Walter Benjamin

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Free Time, Theodor Adorno (starting on p. 187)


I’ve got a date with a neuroscientist

(from the neuroscientist who took my knitting class this week)

Dear Kate,

Thank you so much for introducing me to knitting! The class was a lot of fun and I’d love to come for a few more but I am leaving on holidays on August 4th so unfortunately I won’t be there for the scheduled part 2.
I hope we will meet again for a session of knitting in the near future.
Best wishes
Oh that’s too bad! I mean, too bad that you won’t be there — holidays are always a good thing. But actually, if you’d like, I’d be happy to meet up with you before you leave for a one-on-one knitting class. Also, I was hoping that at some point I could ask you a bit about your work, because I am very interested in the neurological effects of craft and have been wanting to find someone with a background in neuroscience to enlighten me a bit on the subject. Would you be interested in that, trading a knitting lesson for a neuroscience lesson?
What a nice idea, Kate: I’ll do it with pleasure. 

I have quite a lot of work these days and a deadline on August 1st, so how about we meet the weekend 2-3 August, or the evening of Friday August 1st? Are you going to be around?

I’d like to prepare for this knowledge exchange: do you have any specific papers / news excerpts about crafts and brain plasticity/development that you’d like to talk about? Or specific questions?
My areas are reward and learning, memory, emotions and musical training-related brain plasticity, plus a vast amount of random neuroscience knowledge about other  things. So you see, I’d like to tailor it to what you’d like to learn. 
Looking forward to some more knitting!
As am I!

Circular needles are not that hard

Update on the hat.

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All that was done last night. I enjoy making clothing for small humans — projects get done so quickly when they’re in miniature.

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Knitting 101

Was I professionally qualified to teach a beginner’s knitting class last night? Of course not. I started knitting at the end of March (I’d tried learning a few times before, but I was still basically starting over again). And that is one of the things I love about the idea of Trade School: I can cast on, cast off, knit and purl, do decreases and increases, cables and button holes, and I have the patience to see a fairly lengthy project through to its completion. In a world where you must have professional certification in tying your shoelaces before you are deemed qualified to teach other people how to tie their shoelaces, it’s revolutionary to propose a school in which teachers are welcome to teach based simply on the fact that they say they know how to do something and would like to share their knowledge with others. Since I know enough of the basics of knitting to teach others how to get started, that’s what I did.

At the same time, it was definitely a lot more difficult than I’d expected. Knitting is not like baking bread (the last class I offered, which I was also professionally unqualified to teach): With bread, there’s plenty of wait time, nothing is particularly precise, and it’s a skill whose explanation lends itself well to meandering discussion on other topics, like the degeneration of crop diversity caused by industrialized agriculture. Knitting, on the other hand, requires precise attention when you’re just getting started and therefore leaves no room for talking about the industrialization of the wool industry and its economic and environmental implications. Pity, since I’d prepared a whole rant in my head along those lines, which we never got to because we were preoccupied with our needles. Oh well, next time.

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What to do with a eucalyptus besides feeding it to a koala

What do you do when someone gives you a gift that goes against your ethics? My friend Joseph gave us as a wedding present this beautiful eucalyptus:

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He explained that for our thirtieth anniversary he would give us a panda, and since the eucalyptus by that time would have flourished into a lush forest, the panda would have its habitat all ready to go. There are two issues with this. One: in a quick internet search to check on the care and use of eucalyptus plants, it seems that pandas do not in fact eat eucalyptus — they eat bamboo. Koalas (and other marsupials) eat eucalyptus. The other, more important issue with this gift is that neither Alvaro nor I are keen on the idea of keeping an exotic, endangered species as a pet. In fact, we are wholly against it. Domesticated cats and dogs are one thing — they are species bred as companion animals. But a wild creature used to living in the forest? And one that would grow to be larger than an adult human? Keeping an animal of that size would be logistically difficult, but the ethical considerations are what really worry us.

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Reading: Corn, fermentation, cottage industry laws, symbiotic man & following a tree

Bioartefactos: Between transgenic crops and ancestral biodiversity

Art is one of the better ways to show this cultural diversity that at the same time is intimately related to the natural world, which for us now means also the production and designing of “bio-artifacts”. Corn is a bio-artifact. But we have to learn to see degrees, nuances and be more specific in the kind of analysis that we make when we draw a border between the natural and the artificial.

It can be said that there is no problem with transgenic food, but there is no consensus in the scientific community about this. And this should be enough to have more precaution. But I insist, what is at stake is not only the way in which we produce food and what for, but also how we dwell in this world, and what cultural diversity are we willing to preserve and respect.

Ferment Your Garden: Summer Recipes

Cottage Industry Laws

One sunny morning last autumn I went to the farmers’ market for pumpkins, eggs, and whatever vegetables were still available at this, the final market of the season. One of the more prominent booths, Magic Garden, featured friendly elderly ladies offering produce, dried herbs, and a dozen different types of relishes and sauces in home-canning jars.

“We can do this now,” one of them said brightly while passing her arm above the display, “thanks to that new law.”

The law to which the vendor referred was Oregon HB 2336, signed in 2011 and implemented in January 2012, which allows farmers to process their own produce in a limited number of ways, and then sell directly to consumers in a farmers’ market setting. Previously, the canning would have been required to occur in a licensed commercial kitchen.

Symbiotic Man: A Commentary in Six Drawings


Following a tree, July