There is something about gathering and gleaning that imparts a sense of
abundance. I’m a waitress and my husband makes cheese. Amy is a student and
a care-giver and Angie a masseuse and a local theatre actor and directer. We all
have debt and juggle bills. None the less, when five dollars and ten minutes at
your local thrift shop yields a half dozen of your favorite jam jars, two yards of
green gingham and a $.69 Antique British tea tin that sells on Ebay for $27.95,
you can’t help but feel like things are lookin’ up!
A counter filled with hot popping jam jars made from free fruit has the same
effect. Gathering and gleening also satisfies the drive humans seem to have for
accumulating stuff. From the time I was aware of archaeology I was horrified by
what we were leaving behind.
I can just hear the archaeologists of the future, “Apparently sometime in the
twenty- second century the population was nearly wiped out because they used
up all of their natural resources to make petroleum based, battery operated,
dancing Santa dolls.”
That said, I love Christmas. I know it’s bad, too commercial, too religious, not
religious enough, HUGE contributor to landfills, a great big celebration of gluttony
on many levels. I know. But I love it. I love baking, shipping and eating cookies. I
love a big family dinner, knitted stockings filled with unknown treasures, a
fragrant tree to greet all guests and Burl Ives’ records. I look forward to it. I keep
my Christmas longings to myself most of the year. But by the first of December
I’m ready to burst.
Gathering and gleening helps repress my Christmas consumption guilt. I canned
fruit for the first time almost 15 years ago while trying to sell my Grandmother’s
house in South Florida. I didn’t have a job, but I did have two huge mango trees
in the back yard. I couldn’t bare to watch the fruit go to waste. A daily batch of
chutney, a weekly filled dehydrator, some very tubby squirrels and completely
mangoed-out neighbors were able to help save most of the fruit. Canning, I
learned, also refuses to tolerate my procrastinating tendencies. School work can
wait, laundry can wait, paying bills can wait, ripe fruit will not wait.
After leaving Florida, other people’s fruit trees or berry bushes called out to me,
which eventually led to the bazaar and the birth of The Bazaar Girls. Angie and I
canned all summer during a bad fruit year and never purchased a single piece of
As for the jars, they were gathered at second hand stores, garage sales and
sometimes given to us by the same little old ladies who let us take their fruit. The
fabric that we used for jam hats was all scavenged as well. It’s always tempting
to buy new, but if you are working on this project all year the hunt becomes as
much fun as the actual find, so does figuring out how to solve problems without
spending money. New plastic things have a way of shouting their immediate
necessity, I know. I too have been tempted, while perusing a big chain craft
store, to buy all manner of brightly colored plastic organizational toys. The key is
to stay focused, you can leave the store with only the candy wrappers, or hole
punch you’d gone in to buy.
Shortly after denying myself color coordinated totes, I discovered flats. FREE
card board biodegradable produce flats. Your grocer will happily supply them, as
soon as they empty them. I used flats for everything. I had them in the trunk to fill
with unexpected fruit finds. I had them under my bed, one for fabric, scissors,
tags, pens and other jam hat tools, others stored everything needed for individual
knitting projects. In my basement a different flat for every shape and size of
canning jar. Flats are brilliant.
I should warn you, when gathering you have to be mindful, you don’t want to end
up on an episode of Hoarders. I went a little crazy buying old tins. When I was a
kid, the arrival of Grandma Switzer’s spicy lebkuchen, in a well-worn Christmas
tin, always triggered that magical swell of anxiety and wonder that were the
exquisitely torturous couple of weeks before Christmas morning.
Tins charmed me and I succumbed. Cookie tins and canning jars endure. A
Christmas tin filled with a home-baked cookies remains one of my favorite gifts to
both give and receive. And old British tea tins are perfect for storing buttons or
embroidery floss. Wide mouth pints filled with apple butter and short squat jars
filled with tart plum jam, can revisit us year after year just as holiday traditions
Focused gathering will make your heart soar, because it has an inherent
There are these small, tart plums and fruit embossed canning jars that please me
no end. I’ve designed logos, recipes and knitting patterns around them both. If I
find one or two of the jars at a junk shop it’s a good day. Good day, done, easy
as that. But last summer when Amy told me there were plum trees in her
landlord’s yard, well, that was the best day.
I had been secretly glum because I had collected more than thirty of the short,
round jars and it turned out to be a really shitty year for plums. But then Amy
called, she had plums, and her landlord was out of town for weeks. When they
got back the fruit would be useless. The plums were mine. I didn’t care what kind
they were, they were plums!
Amy’s apartment was part of larger house, which was hidden behind a tall, thick
hedge. When I stepped through the gate I gasped. The same tiny, tart plum
variety that inspired the thumbprint cookies, the knitted sugar plum satchel, the
summer romance story and Angie’s commissioned water-color. Amy’s yard was
full of those plums. I could not have been happier. Every jam jar would be filled!
Sweet little jam jars, red ribbon with white polka dots, Good Housekeeping tins or
whatever it is that charms you, will come to you and lift your spirits if you’re
patient. You will be left with not only a sense of a abundance, but one of
generosity and gratitude to boot.
When you surround yourself with things that inspire you, you are far more likely
Your assignment for May, scope out fruit trees, jars and recipes.