Month: November 2022

Take Me to Church

Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent—for Christians the start of the liturgical year, marking the formal beginning of the Christmas season—and so I did something I’ve meant to do for a very long time: I went to church.

I was raised in a faith community—the United Church of Canada, in which I was christened as a young child and confirmed at the age of 14—and grew up going to Sunday school, singing in the choir, and doing community volunteer work as part of the church. For many years my family’s life revolved around the churches we attended—first Riverdale United Church in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood and, later, Pickering Village United Church in Ajax Ontario.

Riverdale United Church, at least from 1976-1981 when we lived nearby and attended regularly, was as serious about its annual theatre productions as it was about the liturgy. The church community was intelligent in its interpretation of the Gospel, lighthearted in its practice of faith, and earnest in its commitment to public service. In many ways it has remained my model of a healthy, engaged, active church. Sadly, Riverdale United Church closed in 2010 after what appears to have been a long period of slow decline as the neighbourhood changed and long-time parishioners died or moved away. In 2018 the building, whose title had been transferred to the WoodGreen community services agency, was torn down to build supportive housing for seniors. I was fortunate to receive an invitation to salvage material from the building in the days before it was demolished, and am grateful to have one of the church’s stained glass windows and a hymnal cabinet—both pried from the building’s studs with crowbars I’d brought across town on the streetcar—in my home.

Pickering Village United Church, which we attended from 1981 until 1988, was very suburban and, at least at the time, deeply stereotypically of various eighties excesses right down to the social cliques and rituals of conspicuous consumption. It was not a good fit for my parents, who were neither suburban nor middle class. Despite being treated as outsiders, my family contributed greatly to church activities—my father was a steward, my mother edited the church newsletter and served as choir secretary, we all sang in the choir (which was and probably still is excellent), volunteered for everything, and donated large sums of money my parents could really not afford—remaining active in the church until my father resigned us all from church membership over the at-the-time-divisive issue of gay ordination. This was a terrible pity, since my father, who had been reflexively homophobic like many of his generation, eventually came to support marriage equality because, perhaps above all, he was a romantic who believed in love. I don’t think he would, later on, have cared one whit about a minister’s sexual orientation or gender identity as long as they knew their theology and could slip a few ridiculous puns into a sermon.

As an adult I have, of course, gone to church / temple weddings and funerals and, sometimes, attended special services, but have never since belonged to a faith community. Most of the time this has seemed fine. Like my mother, I identify as a solitary Christian and have developed a deeply personal, rather unorthodox theology that remains principally Protestant in its structure but which seeks the divine (and divine revelation) in nature and natural processes—as, incidentally, do a great many deeply Christian hymns (more about one of my favourite hymns here). Since adolescence I have been agnostic about (even indifferent to) the divinity of Christ, while remaining committed to the Christian theology of sacrifice and redemption. In some quarters this would make me a heretic, but I’ve never had much patience for literalism. The God I believe in would appreciate it if humans thought more, not less, and would really like us to stop committing atrocities in His name. And along these lines, my favourite and most deeply valued para-religious texts include the anonymous fifteenth century lyric poem, “Adam lay I-bounden,” whose lines—“Ne hadde the apple take been, the apple taken been, / Ne hadde never our Lady aye been Heaven’s queen. / Blessed be the time that apple taken was, / Therefore we may singen, “Deo gracias.”—came as a revelation about knowledge and its gifts and responsibilities when I first encountered them in the good old Norton Anthology of Poetry in an undergraduate literature course; and Italian journalist Giovannino Guareschi’s book (made into a film) The Little World of Don Camillo, a series of interlinked stories in which a Catholic priest solves his village’s human problems in part by arguing with Christ on the Cross.

Sometimes, though, a solitary faith is a lonely faith and, as I’ve gotten older, I have longed to belong to a faith community. I’ve missed the rituals and fellowship and, perhaps above all, I’ve missed the hymns. Protestant hymns are, on the whole, joyful, rich in symbolism, and celebrate connections between the ordinary and the divine, and I miss hearing voices raised in song.

Photo of the Gothic Revival facade of Runnymede United Church in Toronto, Canada.
Image source: Runnymede United Church.

And so, on Sunday morning, on the first Sunday of Advent, I put on a nice dress and a good coat, and walked over to Runnymede United Church to attend my first Sunday morning service in more than three decades.

Runnymede United Church was established in 1925; the Gothic Revival building housing the congregation was completed in 1928. I’ve often admired the building while passing by—it’s right across the street from the elementary school my daughter attended for ten years, meaning that I’ve had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the architecture—and have noticed how often the building seemed abuzz with activity. In returning to worship, I have hoped to find a faith community neither too cliquey nor obviously in the process of dying out, and Runnymede seemed neither of these things. About a year ago I subscribed to the church’s email list, and was pleased to see a balance of traditional and contemporary interests represented in its regular communications. Because my church-going experiences are mainly from the 1970s and 1980s, I was hoping to find a church in which traditional elements of the liturgy had not entirely been discarded and, being quite familiar with the United Church’s longstanding practice of trying to be all things to all people (a thing seeded in its very inception), I was a bit worried there would be nothing familiar when I walked in the door.

And yet, when I walked in, there was familiar carpeting, and familiar dark woodwork, and a familiar smell of lemon and beeswax. The entry was busy with ushers, just as I remembered from childhood, and someone immediately handed me a printed copy of the Order of Service, which I was very pleased to take. Stepping into the sanctuary—a wonderful space, bright with carved woodwork and stained glass, the walls painted yellow and blue, the arches hung with Arts-and-Crafts-inspired tapestries—was like returning to a familiar and beloved home. I found an empty pew not far from the back, hung my umbrella, shrugged off my coat, and sat, just as I had done so many hundreds of times before. The organ—a pipe organ, it seems!—pealed the opening chords of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel,’ and as voices raised to sing the processional hymn, I stood there, choking out the familiar words, crying with longing and relief.

My first service in more than thirty years featured a baptism in which a delightful baby (who kept waving his arms as if to smite the minister) was welcomed into the family of the church. By this point I was no longer shedding tears, in part because the pre-Communion hymn, ‘O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts,’ included the lines “We taste thee, O thou living bread, / and long to feast upon thee still,” which absolutely made me giggle—because the book in my purse happened to be Bill Schutt’s Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (2017). Schutt’s book, of course, includes a chapter on Holy Communion, exploring the sometimes unholy history of the Eucharist and the, er, thorny theological issue of whether or not the sacramental bread and wine are meant to be consumed, literally, as the body and blood of Christ. Un/fortunately, I didn’t get a chance to partake in Communion—a ritual I had stopped participating in by the early nineties because, at the time, I could not square the Protestant principles of faith with any suggestion of literal Transubstantiation, and the Anglican service at which I last sat through Communion kind of hedged on the issue—because there was no pre-wrapped packet of Wine and Bread at my particular pew. Over the years I have grown satisfied that Communion, at least in mainstream Protestant churches, is understood to be a metaphor—Corinthians, at least as I have read it, makes it pretty clear that Communion is meant to be taken in remembrance of Christ, not as a sampler plate—so maybe next time I will partake.

The sermon was short, the choir lovely, the prayers familiar. A few things have changed–the Apostle’s Creed is a little different from the one I grew up with, and the hymnbook—Voices United—seems to have most of the familiar hymns, but in a completely different order. I didn’t think to note the version of the Bible the United Church now uses, but will probably bring my old copy of the King James anyway, as, for the most part, I prefer the poetry in its passages. I did note that, during the service, the Old Testament was called the Hebrew Bible, which seemed interesting and, really, preferable, considering that both Testaments are living texts.

After the service there was a fellowship hour, which sounded lovely although I did not attend as, frankly, I felt a bit overwhelmed and wanted to be alone with my thoughts on the rainy walk home. I’ll do so next time, because I think Runnymede may be my new church, and I’d like to start getting to know its community.

Treasures from the Old Book and Paper Show

Yesterday morning, bright and early, I took the streetcar halfway across town to attend the Old Book and Paper Show, hosted at the Artscape Wychwood Barns on Christie at St. Clair. The show was scheduled to open at ten, but when I walked in shortly thereafter, the hall was already buzzing with eager browsers and the booths were packed with people and an incredible range of wonderful paper-related things.

This was another first-time event for me. I’ve had a very serendipitous life discovering interesting old books and sometimes other paper treasures at book sales, yard sales, and in random boxes discarded at curbside. I’ve always maintained a large library at home, made up of books kept for research, teaching or pleasure reading, but suppose I have not really considered myself a Collector of books or paper ephemera. Although there are the 1940s issues of Chatelaine Magazine I snap up whenever they appear; and the nineteenth and twentieth century promotional cookbooks and kitchen-related pamphlets; and vintage books on animal husbandry, hunting and trapping, interior decor; and …

So maybe I have become a Collector after all.

At the Old Book and Paper show, I browsed the booths counter-clockwise, and was fortunate to arrive almost immediately at the delightfully-named The Book Not Mad, whose proprietor had laid out a very good selection of Canadiana, garden books, tame and therefore rather sweet erotica, and—catnip for me—old cookbooks and food-related promotional pamphlets. I rifled through those, and—with an eye on the clearly inadequate amount of cash I’d brought—bought three books.

The first, Better Cooking and Baking, was published by Robertshaw-Fulton Controls Canada in 1956. I had never heard of Robertshaw-Fulton before, but have learned that the company produced thermostats and other controls for electric heating elements. Many of the recipes—for apple pie, mushroom casserole, tomato soup cake (yes: it sounds awful, but midcentury cookbook enthusiast and TikTok recipe tester B. Dylan Hollis says it’s not half bad with the right frosting)—are familiar fare in mid-century cookbooks. Where Better Cooking and Baking differs, however, is in that the recipes are divided into two principal sections: Oven Cooking, and Range Top Recipes. Along the way, readers—who may be new to electric cooking—are also instructed in Correct Placement of Pans in Oven and shown schematic illustrations of stovetop sensing elements for stovetop burners. The cookbook has delightful photographs, which include lovely now-vintage oven and serving ware, and includes very helpful guides to kneading bread, shaping rolls and preparing pastry. I am guessing this cookbook was given away at trade shows and possibly also came free with the purchase of electric ranges containing Robertshaw-Fulton controls. 

My second purchase from The Book Not Mad was Tasty Meals for Every Day, issued by Canada Packers under the Maple Leaf Products banner in 1933. By 1933 the Depression was well advanced, and many of the recipes in Tasty Meals for Every Day are geared toward “economical meals.” There are, for example, plenty of recipes calling for chopped or ground meats, and many of them involve meat cooked in and with vegetables in order to stretch a dish to feed an entire family. The recipes are credited to “Margaret H. Rees, Dietician” who, according to Elizabeth Driver’s Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949 (2008: 756), worked for Canada Packers and created or compiled recipes for at least one other company cookbook. I am guessing that this promotional cookbook was given away at public events like the Canadian National Exhibition

I bought this cookbook for two reasons. First, Canada Packers operated out of the Junction-area Union Stockyards (at Keele and St. Clair) until 1983. The Stockyards—located less than a kilometre from my house, albeit on the other side of the proverbial tracks—has been developed into housing and large format retail spaces since the 1990s, although at least one slaughterhouse remains in operation, for now. The second reason I bought Tasty Meals for Every Day was because it includes handwritten recipes on the endpapers—my very favourite thing to find in an old cookbook. The recipes in my copy are an (unlabeled) chocolate cake recipe, which includes allspice and mace; ‘Chocolate Cream Filling or Blanc Mange;’ ‘Boiled Icing,’ Chocolate Frosting,’ and ‘Divinity Fudge.’ From these handwritten recipes, and from the grease marks in the cakes and pastries section of the cookbook, it seems pretty clear that the woman who received this cookbook kept it not for the meat recipes but for the desserts. 

My third find at The Book Not Mad’s booth was this intriguing, vest pocked-sized A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails. The book is undated but was produced before 1932 and possibly prior to 1926, when the company (sold to industrialist Harry C. Hatch in 1923) was renamed Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts in a merger (note: the Distillery District’s Distillery Heritage website lists the date as “circa 1928”). Toronto-based Gooderham & Worts Distillers was located in what is now known as the historic Distillery District: after production shut down in 1990, the site (named a National Historic Site in 1988) remained largely vacant until it was redeveloped into galleries, shops and condos that have maintained most of the site’s nineteenth century industrial architecture. 

I’m not quite sure what to make of this little book. Prohibition wasn’t formally repealed in Ontario until 1927, and remained in effect in the US until 1933. In Quebec, however, Prohibition lasted only until 1921, and G&W (or HWGW, as the company became known) exported enthusiastically to the province. I have seen reference to a bilingual, 1930 edition of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, which obviously would have been distributed in la Belle Province (a digitized copy can be viewed here), so I am guessing that my edition (which includes a couple of mixed drinks with French names) would also have been made available in regions to which G&W could legally have exported alcohol. At the same time, the names of many of the mixed drinks—American Beauty, Astoria Cocktail, Bronx Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail, Millionaire Cocktail, New Orleans Gin Fizz, Saratoga Cocktail, etc.—seem very American, very Jazz Age, meaning the book might have been subtly marketed to bootleggers’ American customers … or at least to Canadian drinkers who wanted to feel like they were consuming illicit beverages in a Detroit speakeasy. 

In America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops (Oxford University Press, 2011), my favourite historian, Christine Sismondo, writes of the relationship between Canadian distillers and American drinkers during Prohibition in the US, 

Prohibition was effectively a farce in Canada. The country had no equivalent to the Webb-Kenyon Act, which had prohibited the shipment of alcohol from wet to dry states. Several distillers, most notably the Seagram Company, under the control of entrepreneurial Samuel Bronfman, took immediate advantage of this legal oversight and began building a mail-order alcohol empire within Canada. When America went dry, Canadian suppliers such as Bronfman saw the potential for sales south of the border and began ramping up production, ignoring ethical concerns. As Harry Hatch, president of Hiram Walker [Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts], put it, “The Volstead Act does not prevent us from exporting at all. It prevents somebody over there from importing. There is a difference.” 

This means it was entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails could have found its way into a few American vest pockets prior to 1933. Which makes one wonder: had Jay Gatsby been carrying one, would he have survived George Wilson’s bullet? 

Fun Fact 1: A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails includes a recipe for “Flu Cocktail,” which seems very of its post-1918 Influenza Epidemic era. In case anyone wishes to try it in the Covid era, it calls for 

  • 1 dash of Jamaica Ginger
  • 1 teaspoonful of Lemon Juice
  • 1 teaspoonful Rock Candy Syrup
  • 1 glass of G & W “Four Roses” Rye
    Stir together and serve in same glass

Fun Fact 2: I paid $15 for my copy of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, and thought it a fair price, but see that the book is considered scarce, and the couple of copies available online are listed for over $400 CDN. Yikes. Well; I guess I’ll drink to that. If you don’t want to spend the money on a print version, you can read a digitized copy online here

From another seller’s booth I bought this 1941 copy of Emergencies in War, prepared by the Canadian Red Cross Society. The booklet was produced during the Battle of Britain (1940) and Blitz (1940-1941), during which Nazi warplanes carpet-bombed civilian as well as strategic targets in efforts to force Britain to submit to German terms (the same approach Russia has used in its targeting of civilian populations in Ukraine in 2022). Emergencies in War assumes its Canadian civilian readers may well find themselves under direct attack, and seeks to prepare them accordingly, with advice on dealing with shock, bleeding, burns and other wounds. It includes chapters on Psychology of Emergencies — noting, “fear is an implement of war” — and Air Raid Precautions.

A very relevant example from the Psychology of Emergencies chapter is the reported use of noise to terrorize civilian populations:

Fear has played a large part in the progress of the present war to date. Hitler, realizing that fear is the most powerful and deep-rooted instinct in human nature, has repeatedly, and successfully, and without conscience, made use of it to achieve his conquests. For instance, note how he has made use of loud noises to produce fear. German dive-bombers have sirens placed on their wings, and German bombs have vanes which make them scream as they descend. The masses of civilian population in Poland, Holland, Belgium and France broke into frenzy in the face of dive-bombers roaring down at 600 miles an hour, with sirens wailing, bombs screeching and machine-guns blazing, and swarmed on to the highways, effectively blocking them to fast manoeuvering of allied armaments. 

For this chapter alone, the book is excellent, and—it must be said—timely, more than eighty years later. This, incidentally, is a subject I will shortly have much more to say about over at The Space Between Us. 

My favourite finds at the Old Book and Paper Show were 1930s and 1940s issues of Canadian Home Journal, a woman’s magazine that ran from 1905 as The Home Journal (and 1910 as Canadian Home Journal) until 1958. Middlebrow Canada describes the CHJ as similar to Chatelaine Magazine, but in browsing the issues I bought yesterday, I’d say the CHJ is notably lighter weight in terms of the issues it addressed. Where Chatelaine, even in the thirties but definitely by the forties, is usually proto-feminist in orientation, and tackles social issues intelligently and pretty much head-on, the CHJ takes a softer approach, foregrounding stories and serialized novellas in which traditional themes are advanced and including (at least in my reading so far) much briefer non-fiction articles that tackle their subjects somewhat in passing. Where CHJ has it over Chatelaine, however, is in its visuals, which are wonderful. Chatelaine covers are very good, but look at these CHJ covers! I just love them. 

I hesitate to mention advertisements, because far too often ephemera resellers rip ads out of old magazines and sell them individually as tear sheets. I don’t get this at all. It seems to me that the ads lose their value when removed from their context, particularly the record the magazines, their format, design, articles and advertisements offer of the era in which they were published. Ads can be scanned, which I suppose would undercut much of their resale value. And yet—advertisements are emblematic of the mass production era, and maybe it would be better to enjoy them that way. 

Still, have a gander at this gorgeous advertisement for Congoleum Gold Seal Rugs! Isn’t it incredible? I would die—positively die! (only metaphorically, of course)—to have this kitchen! 

So endeth my day at the Old Books and Paper Show. There was so much I didn’t have a chance to enjoy, especially the numerous boxes of old photographs and postcards at various vendors’ tables. They were utterly swarmed with people and I didn’t want to push in. I was also, if I am honest, experiencing information overload. Also, the vendor from whom I bought the Canadian Home Journals had tons and tons of old magazines (including old Vogues) and catalogues (Eaton’s, Canadian Tire, etc.) I would have loved to look at longer. Maybe next time. It was a fun event, and I’ll definitely go to the next one. 

Cut pineapple sage blossoms in an earthenware vase

The Final Task of Fall

Early this afternoon a friend posted online that fat snowflakes were falling on her southwestern Ontario city. This was my cue to go out and cut the bright red sprays of pineapple sage blossoms that bright red sprays of pineapple sage blossoms in an earthenware vaseare the last thing to bloom in my garden, and bring them in to set in a vase. In previous years I have also marked this occasion by making pineapple sage bread or pineapple sage jelly, but this year (unless I feel spectacularly ambitious tomorrow—and already I do feel tempted) the cut flowers are going to provide their own lovely coda to fall.

Watching the sky, I also went down the street to tend to our bur oak, guerrilla planted in the circle park about three years ago. The oak has withstood the ravages of kids, dogs and City parks crews, but I was a little concerned about someone or something knocking it over during the coming winter. I hammered in three additional stakes and wrapped fencing around them to provide a bit more protection. I was pleased to see next year’s buds already well-formed.

A young bur oak, staked and fenced for protection in a public parkWhile I was doing this work, a woman stopped to chat about the oak. She told me she also has a bur oak in her front garden, and tends it with care. We talked about trees, raccoons, and the ecological responsibilities of urban citizens. She told me she feels very close to her tree; adding that it’s hard not to love something you care for.

I feel the same about our little oak. It’s hard not to hope too much for its future: the folly (and unfortunate necessity) of urban forestry is that trees are planted as singletons, whereas in a woodland environment dozens of seedings might grow in a square metre, insurance against drought, cold, or the grazing mouths of hungry animals.

Still, next year I might see if it’s possible to obtain another bur oak, or two, and get a small oak plantation going in the circle park. We are already nurturing a (non-native) horse chestnut, a white or red oak, and an American elm sapling that is reportedly resistant to Dutch Elm Disease in pots in our garden, for future guerrilla planting, and it wouldn’t hurt to add at least one more bur oak. German forester Peter Wohlleben‘s work suggests trees grow best in communities, so the least we can do is try to get one going.

After tending to our oak, I came home, packed away the last of the pots on the front verandah (and dug in and heavily mulched some sweet cicely and Angelica in hopes it might overwinter in its containers), put the pineapple sage blossoms in water, and turned my internal clock from fall to winter mode.

milkweed fluff, loosed from its casing

Putting the Gardens to Bed

At six o’clock the setting moon casts its waning glow in the west, while a thin wedge of dawn opens up on the eastern horizon. A pale, thin dawn that silhouettes the trees, stark and bare on this November morning. At seven the little birds congregate at the feeder, wings buffeting the air, their tiny heated hearts beating impossibly fast. Beneath them fat squirrels gather seeds the birds kick down and plan their own incursions at the feeder.

purple asters with yellow centres, glowing in the November lightYesterday, on the last improbably warm day of this beautiful fall, I finished putting the gardens to bed. On Thursday I planted the garlic, pushing fat cloves down into yielding soil, and set the containers against a stone wall in our front garden where they will receive reflected heat and light, and yesterday I mulched them and tucked leaves deep around the containers.

Yesterday I pulled the last of the tomatoes, harvesting the green fruit, and picked red and green peppers. One final, fibrous eggplant revealed itself, too woody to be eaten, and so with regret it went into the compost. All the containers are now tucked away; the walks swept; leaves mounded on the gardens; a couple of nursery trees dug down into the soil to overwinter; patio furniture put away; the air conditioning compressor covered; verandahs swept.

The final task—the one I always put off until last—was to clean out the eavestroughs on the garage. A few years ago we had the eavestroughs on the house replaced and covered with gutter shields, and this has saved us from needing to wedge an extension ladder between the houses, climb up two stories and stick our heads above the roofline in the narrow space, hoping not to swallow too much leaf litter while hauling it out. But the garage eavestroughs are old and uncovered, and fill up over the season with decaying leaf material and bits of grit from the old shingles. Usually I complete this messy task on the last possible day, while rain and flurries swirl about my frozen head. Yesterday it merely rained, a warm rain, as I sang ‘Swamp Thing’ to myself and hauled buckets of sludge down a step ladder and dumped them into the compost (where they will make incredibly rich soil).

milkweed fluff, loosed from its casingThen I put the ladder away, swept the walks one last time, and cast my eyes over the gardens, looking for anything that might be vulnerable to winter. The only container plant left uncovered is the pineapple sage, now blooming in bright red fireworks, which I will cut and bring in today before tucking the very last of the pots away.

There are flurries in the forecast for tomorrow, and then it will be time to turn inward, to warm interior spaces, and hearty meals, and cozy evenings spent with books.

A Late Batch of Lemon Verbena Jelly

It’s very late in the season—it’s well into November, and there is snow in the forecast—but my heat-loving lemon verbena has been going strong throughout this mild, beautiful fall. Usually I spend days in September and October making preserves, but this year has been very short on time. I was able to make two lovely batches of crabapple jelly, however, and hoped—needed, really—to make at least one batch of lemon verbena jelly before fall turned toward winter.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is a tropical plant of the verbena family, native to South America where it grows as a perennial shrub, but cultivated in northern regions as an annual. It is one of my favourite herbs, mainly because of its strong, sweet, lemony scent. It makes the finest jelly—complex, multilayered and winey—but can also be preserved in oil and vinegar, infused into butter, dried for tea, and used fresh in baking.

I’ve been making lemon verbena jelly since 2018, and use a recipe from American culinary herb expert Marge Clark’s beautiful book The Best of Thymes (1997). In 2019 my lemon verbena jelly won first prize in the Jams, Jellies and Pickling competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the first (and so far, only, a lapse I hope to rectify next year) time I’ve entered any of my preserves, which means it’s an excellent recipe and a superb herb.

Making herb jellies is quite straightforward. It revolves around making an infusion of the bruised leaves of a given herb in boiling water, a thing for which most highly flavoured herbs (perhaps the best known being mint) are well suited. The herb leaves are strained out, and the infusion is then jellied, bottled and processed to be safely shelf-stable. Some people complain about the quantity of sugar that goes into most jellies, but (as preserving experts will attest), sugar is one of the ingredients that keeps jellies shelf-stable for long periods. I preserve my jellies in small (125 ml) jars, because I find a little goes a long way. Lemon verbena jelly spread on fresh sourdough toast is one of my favourite things to eat, and one little jar can cover a month’s worth of weekend toasts. Most of these little jars will be given as gifts to friends, but I will keep two or three for toast.

Yesterday I went out in the low-angled November sunlight, cut the green branches from my lemon verbena, and stripped them at the library table while the aromatic oils filled the whole house. I chopped the leaves, poured boiling water over them, and let them rest while preparing my canning jars. Then I made the jelly, stirring it to a high boil, and ladled it into jars before processing it in a hot water bath. This recipe always makes nine little jars, and I counted nine satisfying ‘pings’ as their lids snapped down after processing.

I have a deep and enduring love of culinary herbs, and grow dozens of varieties, mostly in containers on the sunny decks and verandas of our otherwise mainly shady property. Next year, however, I plan to turn our front garden into a (somewhat) formal herb garden, so some of the classic perennial herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, Angelica, will have more room to root. This year I planted some of the more shade tolerant herbs (Sweet Cicely, lemon balm, lemon thyme) in our back garden, and have recently mulched them in hopes they’ll survive the winter. I have also had good luck with herbs overwintering in containers (especially lemon thyme, tarragon and winter savoury).

A few weeks ago I cut bunches of the herbs I use most in the winter (sage, rosemary, tarragon, lemon thyme, oregano, sweet marjoram) and hung them to dry in the garage. Later this week I’ll crumble them into jars, each handful a promise of life returning after the long winter.

*

Here’s a bonus picture of eight 1950s-era Jane Ray (Fire King) teacups and saucers I found on the shelf at Value Village a week ago, bundled in sets of four for $5.99 each. This was an improbable find—Jadeite, remains highly collectible and it has become uncommon to find pieces at thrift stores—but I found them deposited on a shelf in the board games section, suggesting they had been picked up and then set down by one of the resellers who prowls the local thrifts. Maybe there’s not enough of a margin on Jadeite teacups, or perhaps they’d been set down because they are unmarked, but I was happy to add them to the small collection of Jadeite I’ve built up since buying my first Anchor Hocking Swirl bowl for $3 at an Eastern Ontario yard sale in 1996. I still use that beautiful bowl every time I make bread (it’s my proofing bowl), and we use Jadeite saucers almost every day as sandwich plates.