Wednesday, March 25, 2009

jalapeno paranoia

Ahh, the mysteries of life....include jalapenos. Or rather, the little jar of homecanned jalapenos that the professor found in his mail box when he got back from his conference. It sat, in the biology department mail room, with no label, note, or tag. No way for us to figure out where it's from.

Now, we like to know where our food comes from. Not just our grocery store food, mind you, but our fresh food. Nearly every week, I pick up our vegetables, eggs and occasionally meat from a farm 5 miles down the road, and I harvest some herbs/veggies from our small garden. I get my milk (cream at the top, glass jar, grass-fed cows raised about 35 miles away) from the local butcher's shop in the winter time and from the farmer's market in the summer. I can fruit in season, and I share my jams, chutneys, pickles, and other delights with the professor's colleagues, and our friends.

In return, we sometimes are gifted with a dozen eggs (of all different colors) from a colleague's chickens, or that excess amount of cucumbers or tomatoes no one else in the department could face. Usually, we know who this is from...but the jalapenos were a mystery.

First, I emailed the four people who I suspected...and at least three said, "No, not me!' They agreed that maybe we shouldn't eat them just yet. After all, the professor's 70+ students had an exam coming up. Wouldn't want to risk any serious foodbourne illness!

Eventually, the professor came up with a funny email, sent it to the whole department, and surprise! we found out who had canned these beautifully colored jalapenos. (one of the fabulous models in Fiber Gathering, actually, and a staff member in the department) She's highly competent, so those jalapenos are probably A-OK to eat. That brought up a whole interesting discussion.

If you made all your food locally, you'd know who produced your food. Or, as a friend who had an organic farm said, when watching me can, "You can like I do. What a've read the whole Ball jar canning guide, haven't you!? We can share now." It was jokingly said, but true. How do we know when that processed food is safe? Locally, we can ask: who home canned that produce, or raised that cattle? Do we trust that person? Globally, we must wonder, was this food, produced across the world by a stranger, processed in a hygenic fashion? Did the jar get boiled first? Did that anonymous cook wash her hands?

The most interesting part about this is that at home, I know exactly where most of my food comes from. I know the farmer who raised the lamb--which is now in butcher paper in my freezer. I've picked pears from his sheep pasture's trees, and I've discussed rain fall with the farm that grows my lettuce. However, when I go out to eat, when I travel, and in big cities, I just try to put my concerns out of my mind. Nine times out of ten, it's just fine. That tenth time (the time when my editor got sick from salmonella in the peanut scare a few months ago?) I'm glad I'm just a wee bit cautious about what I eat, even when away from home. Now, I eat all sorts of highly enjoyable, exotic (and maybe, rarely, risky) things. I love unpasteurized cheese, sushi, ceviche, and all the rest. Yet, those delicious foods were prepared by, well, strangers that I trust. Strangers who cared seriously about their food and its preparation.

Think I'm paranoid? says the professor, in his email. Well, tell that to the people who are after me!

(I'd stop those people and say, "So, have you washed your hands first? Was that jar sterilized? What was the vinegar solution you used with the peppers? How many minutes did you boil it after sealing in the canning bath?")
I'm off to cook dinner for a guest the professor's bringing, what are you eating for dinner? Where did it come from? Was it homemade? Do you trust its safety?

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Blogger cyndy said...

Much "food for thought" in this post!

Even when you do it yourself, things can go wrong...make sure you hear that satisfying POP when you open your jars!

"When in doubt, throw it out!" father used to say that...I still do...

March 25, 2009 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

I just don't can food because of my concerns about safety. The majority of our food is fresh from the farmers market, except our milk, meat and eggs, although I saw a note on my Professor's desk about local grass fed beef...

It does make you stop and wonder, doesn't it?

March 25, 2009 at 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed as I read this post, recalling all the canned foods I've received over the years from people who I know had *not* followed all the rules. Can't think of any I didn't eat, and I'm still here to talk about it.

Meanwhile, one year I found a small basket with unusual, variegated "string" beans on my front porch. I asked around and never did figure out where they came from, but they were fresh--and I ate them too. I guess I like to live on the edge! :)

March 25, 2009 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Although I haven't been canning the last couple years, I do freeze a lot. Still have 2 packages of rhubarb from last year that I have to use up in the next three weeks because this year's crop will be colming on by then! Stews are great for depleting the freezer, not only when it's bitter cold but this coming week when we're to get that cold front that will drop temps considerably. We get all our meat locally from the farmers, hunters and fisherpersons who go on their food gathering forays.

March 26, 2009 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Joanne said...

I should add here, in response to Cyndy and Janet, I've definitely canned things that went wrong! That can be dangerous too. It's usually only one jar, and I can only remember one dangerious situation. I was ill and the professor opened a jar of tomatoes that had gone bad. He didn't smell it and gosh, he was cooking the stuff before I knew it! I started yelling (from my bed upstairs) and saying "WHAT are you cooking! It's spoiled!" Luckily, no one ate that. :)

March 26, 2009 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

That was quite the mystery solved -A nice gift but like you, I wouldn't have considered eating them until I knew who made them I made sure they were safe to eat.

For me, food safety starts in the barn and gardens. We raise approximately 85% of what we consume including raw milk & dairy, meats and veggies. I'm excessively particular how everthing is done - no shortcuts. My families health and welfare are at stake as well as my customers. WE eat the healthiest we possibly just cannot take the slightest risk. It works :)

**I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying my "Fiber Gathering" book. I'm reading it in small doses as time's lovely Joanne - **

March 27, 2009 at 4:37 AM  

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