Sometimes when we follow recipes too closely, too often, we forget the value of making mistakes.
Erica and I just finished a great batch of pickled beets. The twelve jars line the edge of our counter, their rich purply-red seeming to almost glow like the last seam of sunset, trailing over the horizon. Seeing the depth of this color makes me want to dye all my cloths with beet juice, to wear the color of earth and sun distilled through the flesh of this root.
We did not make any mistakes in this batch (at least none that have made themselves evident just yet). But not too long ago we opened a can of pickles from last season, and knew soon after our first bite that the whole batch was ruined. At some point along the way we had put too much salt in the brine and the pickles came out tasting like the ocean.
Erica and I wondered how it was that it had taken us this long to discover the mistake. Part of it was that we had given away much of what we had canned last year (sorry to all for the salty pickles). Since we had not left much for ourselves we saved what we had. This saving had, at some point turned into hording, and we found ourselves back in farm season with lots of preserved food left over from last year.
While the idea of setting food aside is to save it for later – we had begun saving our creations for special occasions that never came. We had uplifted our canning to an art and thus placed the products of that art somehow above the other food in our pantry. However, unlike a fine wine or a rare piece of art work, pickles left for a season only turn into old pickles. In this case, old salty pickles.
This season we did not can any cucumbers. Instead we made refrigerator pickles and since they were not preserved (save the slight preservation of the brine) we had to eat them right away. We ate them over the week or two after making them, and we enjoyed them.
Sometimes our mistakes mean we waste food that should have been eaten. Sometimes they teach us how to make something better next time. Sometimes our mistakes go unnoticed. Sometimes they are all we notice.
The more I meddle in the alchemy of food, the more I understand that making mistakes is a part of making a meal, of making a mess, of making a living. We should not mistake our mistakes for mere errors, but live in them, taste them, and remember them on our tongue. Their flavor adds much to life and more to living.