Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

The generosity of the new economy

Freezer for jam

By
October 13, 2008

It is time to pick up that freezer.

I have nearly reached the capacity of my refrigerator’s built-in freezer; it is stuffed with quart jars of berries and many individually-wrapped packages of sausage. I am budgeting several Kookoolan Farm “green” chickens for my next paycheck, so I’ll need the room, and I’m about to start roasting the end of the summer’s produce to freeze. And I finally have plenty of jam.

I am trading the freezer for a jar of jam, and as a jar seems hardly sufficient, I’m planning to bring at least three or four pints. Blackberry sage, for sure, and perhaps blueberry lavender. Strawberry marjoram, then, and something new and special. I’ve been tossing recipes for green-tomato jam around in my head, and maybe I’ll come up with one that’s really out of this world, so good it will stand Mes Confitures on her stylish French head.

peaches
Peaches from a new friend.

I know it sounds outrageous that someone would offer me a freezer in exchange for a jar of jam. I think so, too. But it’s not completely unusual. Ever since I started, impassioned, on my local-foods journey, I’ve been getting the strangest and most burstingly generous offers.

“Do you want five pounds of pears?” a friend asks, and when I go to pick them up, she explains how she’s selected the best-looking ones. “You didn’t have to do that!” I protest, but she’ll have none of it. The pears are amazing, and I make fig-pear-lavender jam with them, with figs I’ve picked from a neighbor’s enormous tree and lavender from my mom’s garden. I give her a half-pint and then wish I’d given her more.

“I have this cream separator . . ." a woman I barely know begins. It’s enormous and frighteningly heavy, and her uncle made her promise she’d use it for something other than a flower vase. I desperately want to use the raw milk I’ve been getting for butter, but it comes in plastic gallon jugs, and it’s not easy to pour off just cream. She brings it over and I do not pay her back right away, but I promise to teach her to make jam.

“How many peaches do you want?” a person I really do not know at all asks when I express admiration over the peach-picking trip he’s announced on Twitter. His wife and two children come to hang out in my back yard for an hour with 10 pounds of peaches, and they do not want money. I send them away with four kinds of jam and make peach-honey-melon-sage-calendula jam and peppered-peach pie filling.

One day I am riding my bike home, and I see a tree that’s been cut down and a pile of fruit on the lawn. I stop to ask if I can take the apples and pears, and the man who’s standing there helps me load them in my panniers and starts telling me about a fig tree. “Do you want some fig wood?” the man, whose name is Matt, asks.

Fig wood?

Evidently, fig trees are this close to magic: You can plant a piece of fig wood in the ground and water it prodigiously, and it may just grow up to be a tree. He has cut the wrong tree; he was paid to cut it down and learned later it was decades old, an heirloom, and not the property of the person who’d asked him to cut it. He wants to make amends to the universe.

Hours later, he is energetically digging a hole in my front lawn and planting an ancient piece of a fig tree. He comes by once a week to check on and worry over it. He plants more things in our yard and we begin to pay him, a little, but not nearly as much as he’s worth.

I discover things in my garden: a large bucket growing abundantly with Italian parsley, Swiss chard, collard greens (I’ve told him collards are my favorite); recycled pallets for my chicken coop; a little tree of unknown provenance. I know Matt is responsible for these gifts, but sometimes I don’t see him for weeks.

The universe is paying generously. As the markets begin to crash, more and more people offer gifts and trades, and I offer back. I give sourdough starter and a quart of buttermilk to a friend. I save up eggs I’m planning to give to my neighbor, who hands us tomatoes every time we’re in our front yards at the same time and who puts up with our chickens, who sometimes invade her garden.

The boys and I collect sunflower, calendula, cosmos, and artichoke seeds for Christmas gifts. I consider sending an email to my neighborhood list, offering to trade my canning skills in exchange for excess zucchini, pumpkins, tomatoes. I consider making butter for friends in exchange for milk money.

“Will you use two-and-a-half pounds of green tomatoes?” another friend emails, wanting to know what I’ll do with them. I wait to tell her, as I’m still coming up with something great. Green-tomato-apple-thyme relish? Green-tomato-fig chutney? Green-tomato-roasted-yellow-pepper jam? Maybe I’ll make them all.

I’ll need more green tomatoes. If you have any to spare . . .

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