I remember a gift my husband’s sister gave us 28 years ago as we celebrated our first Christmas together. It was a large box of home-made canned goods and preserves from her garden, nestled among red and green tissue paper. I don’t think I appreciated it that much because I had never canned before, but over the years I have come to be grateful for the hard work it takes to fill just one Ball jar.

Near the end of the summer I found a canning recipe in my Ball Blue Book of Preserving called “end of the garden pickle.” I loved the name and the idea of putting up as many different kinds of vegetables in one jar as you possibly could. Waves of melancholy swept over me as I strolled through the garden, red wagon and baskets in tow, gathering the last of the vegetables. I filled a basket with the Spanish onions that Elizabeth had planted. I picked sweet red peppers off of the green pepper plants and green peppers off of what was supposed to be the yellow pepper plants. I reached in-between trellis rungs and pulled out handfuls of string beans off of twisty vines. I loaded the last of the zucchini and yellow summer squash in to the bed of the wagon,and rolled it down the hill to the house.

For the last time, I filled the blue speckled quart jar canner with water from the kitchen tap. After washing, scrubbing, peeling, and slicing the vegetables, I measured 4 cups of vinegar and 4 cups of sugar into a large white enamel pot that I use for cooking large batches. Instead of following the recipe exactly, I stirred in a whole jar of McCormick’s pickling spices into the simmering mixture. The recipe yielded about six quarts and after the vegetables “cured” for a couple of weeks, I opened the jar and sampled a crisp string bean. The texture was excellent, but the vinegar was way too spicy for my taste buds. I realized I had made a mistake by adding a whole jar of pickling spices and found that I could only tolerate a little of the pickle at a time, just as Iong as I ate it with something like a sandwich. I was disappointed and sure that I had ruined the whole batch.

The week before Christmas I boxed up eight jars of home-made canned goods from our garden and sent them across the miles to my sister June in Maine. I bubbled wrapped each jar individually and carefully packed them into a holiday gift box with a New England covered bridge on the lid. It was a tight fit, and soon the box was filled with bread and butter pickles, sweet and sour pickles, piccalilli, apple sauce, crab apple sauce, tomato apple chutney, pesto, and a quart-sized jar of “end of the garden pickle.” Even if it didn’t taste good, it sure looked good.

I called June and told her to open the box right away because there was something perishable in it. I hoped the small jar of thawing pesto would keep as it traveled across the country in cold post office trucks. I also wanted to warn her about a certain item with a rather strong bite.

I wasn’t home when the box arrived at her house and by the time I did talk with her that day, it was too late. She had opened the “end of the garden pickle” first and absolutely loved it – all by itself! I was tickled to no end as she raved on and on about the flavor, calling it “scrumpdillyumptious!” When I asked her later what she thought about her Christmas present she said, “Well, needless to say I was ecstatic to receive the bounty of your harvest. After unpacking each and every bottle and reading their names, my mouth began to water.”

June knew from previous experience what a real treat home-made preserves are. Last year she visited at harvest time and taste-tested each recipe as it was being canned. She especially loved my tomato apple chutney and I didn’t think I could outdo myself, but the “end of the garden pickle” is definitely at the top of her list this year.

If you happen to get a home-made jar of piccalilli or dill pickles, or maybe even a jar of “end of the garden pickle” for Christmas next year, consider yourself honored. You won’t just be getting a jar of vegetables, but a labor of love.