A million years ago, when I was still in graduate school and working at the bookstore in Salt Lake City, I picked up Blue Jelly by Debby Bull. I loved this book. I tried my darndest to sell it to people but for some reason, the folks who wanted Bridges of Madison Country didn’t want to buy this odd little book about a woman who cured her broken heart by canning. Here’s my favorite quote:
Canning may sound like a strange path out of the dark woods of despair, but all the other ways, from Prozac to suicide, are really hard on your body. And therapy – breathing new life into the story every week – doesn’t always help. When you’re really depressed, you have to do something that takes you out of the drama, that makes you detach from the big world and become king of a tiny, controllable world, like one of berries and Ball jars. Just because your heart is smashed, it doesn’t mean that all of your dreams will end in a big mess. Canning demonstrates this principle. You might argue that you could do other, easier things like baking. With cookies and cakes, you wind up with something you actually have to eat right now. And there are not enough steps. Canning is a whole world of a thing to do. It requires that you get out of your head. It’s a Zen thing. You have to be in the moment, paying attention. You boil and sterilize stuff, you time things, you measure and take temperatures: you create an orderly little world. Unlike what has happened to you, these steps take you to what you planned on. You become a person in a world in which things turn out the way you thought they would
Somehow, in the intervening years, I managed to lose, or sell, or give away my copy, and since the departure of the MH (which was sad, but not the sort of heartbreak that Bull went through), I’d been thinking of this book.
When Patrick died, it was my garden that saved me — I kept telling myself that depressed people don’t start gardens. And that first summer, I spent a hot hot August afternoon blanching and freezing enough chard to see me through the winter, weeping with terror because I was going to have to leave the next day for California for work and I was afraid that in the same way that Patrick disappeared overnight, somehow my life in Montana would disappear while I was gone. I told myself that my house couldn’t disappear, because I’d put up enough greens for the winter. I had food in the freezer. I’d be okay. That first year, I thought often of this odd little book, and the woman who canned her way through despair.
Last week my friend Margo came over for dinner — and she brought me a copy — turns out Debby Bull lives across the street from her, here in Livingston. I’ve never met her, although strangely enough, I’m now reasonably good friends with the man who broke her heart, who also lives here. Made re-reading the book a little weird.
It was so interesting to re-visit the book after all this time — it’s just as funny and heartbreaking as I remembered, and the recipes are terrific. So in honor of Canning Week here at LivingSmall — a nod of the head to Blue Jelly, a book that planted the seed in my head all those years ago, that tiny kernel of an idea — what about Montana?
And here I am, all these years later, living in Montana, surviving a different sort of heartbreak altogether by growing a garden, and learning to fill my pantry with pickles and jams and fruits preserved in syrup.