Friday, July 12, 2013

The Girl with the Canning Jar Tattoo

I will get back to cooking from Time-Life books soon. I want to. But as of a few days ago I’m steaming and relaxing in Massachusetts at my in laws’ beach house. The hydrangeas here are far more beautiful than in California and my hair far less so. I'm supposed to cook a dish for an extended-family potluck tomorrow. What should I make?  

So, the other day in Boston I saw a young woman with a tattoo of a large gray canning jar on her bicep. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disturbed by a tattoo. Snakes? Nude women? Fire-breathing dragons? Whatever. 

But this canning jar. Jeez.

To start with, it was drab and blocky, inert and homely. At least a snake has a sinuous and interesting shape, and while a  naked woman isn't a tasteful choice, the unclothed human form has a certain primal allure, or so I’m told. And a dragon has spikes and curves and flame and scales and mythology. All of the above suggest a sexy misspent youth. What does a canning jar suggest? This lovely girl is going to be 60 one day and on her aging arm will be a large, gray canning jar. Couldn’t she at least have put some peaches in it?  

Also, while this young woman looked very hip and independent, just a few decades ago canning was a hot, oppressive chore for women, not an empowering choice. I'm certainly not against canning -- my mother and grandmother were prodigious canners and I’ve canned some myself -- but while you're at it, why not tattoo an ironing board on your other arm? 

Except, at least an ironing board could be interpreted as ironic. There was nothing ironic about the canning jar. It was painfully earnest.

That night I couldn’t sleep and decided to stream a movie called First Winter about a group of young people who live on some kind of communal farm where they appear to do little but take drugs, practice yoga, and have unwatchable threesomes. Unwatchable to me because I found the lead character’s beard so repellent. Others will feel differently.

Anyway, an unspecified catastrophe out in the larger world forces this group to try to live by their wits through the winter, chopping wood, hunting, huddling under blankets for warmth. Eventually, they resort to eating food they canned themselves. The lead character and one of his lovers feed this canned food to each other while giggling in a bathtub and the hideous consequences won’t surprise anyone who’s read East of Eden

If you must tattoo your enviably dewy skin, go with the reptiles, girls! Or why not a rose?

On another subject, I just read a collection of short stories called Bobcat by Rebecca Lee that I picked it up because of the title. The "mesmerizingly strange" book has nothing to do with bobcats, but is full of incandescent writing. Rebecca Lee. I love her voice. I copied down a dozen passages, but here are three choice food-related tidbits:  

“They had Fig Newtons, which I knew were not exactly healthy but they were faintly educational and maybe even sort of biblical.” 

“A single line from the archaeologist Ernest Becker often tore through my mind at the end of long meals, that every man stands over a pile of mangled bones and declares life good.” 

“Normally I don’t like trifle -- its layers of bright, childish tastes; strawberry, coconut, sugar. But Lizbet’s trifle was perfect and mysterious-seeming -- anise, raspberry and port with a gingerbread base. Lizbet basically knew how to live a happy life and this was revealed in the trifle -- she put in it what she loved and left out what she didn’t.” 

That sounds like a disgusting trifle, but what a wonderful book.


  1. Jennifer,

    I just had a conversation yesterday about tattoos in tribute to deceased loved ones. Apparently it's popular to pick a symbol that reminds a person of something the loved one cared about or did often. The example used last night was a vacuum cleaner, since the late relative was a cleaning fanatic. I would guess the canning jar tattoo had a similar motive.

    1. I had not thought of this and it seems like a very good explanation. Other people wouldn't know the reason for the tattoo, but you always would and it would always have meaning for you.

  2. Just wondering, Jennifer, do you like Jim Harrison's writing about food? I really enjoyed The Raw and the Cooked, Adventures of a Roving Gourmand. The beach house looks grand. I don't know what to say about this tattoo trend except that as a consequence of my work in the medical field, I have seen tattoos on old women, and it's not a good look. That memory always kept me from being tempted.

  3. I was going to say, hopefully it was a fake tattoo. After reading the comment about tribute tattoos, I say, nice idea but how about a charm bracelet? I'm not anti-tattoo, but I agree that they should be aesthetically pleasing.

    I'm afraid to look at a repellent beard. I am often repelled by beards. I often say to the TV: I'd like to hold him down and shave him.

    For the potluck, make something interesting and summery that you've been wanting to try on a larger audience. I look forward to hearing all about it.

  4. Clearly you need to make a trifle :) and you just wrote "primal allure" - LOVE! I think fish make nice tattoos too.

  5. I'm such a prude about tattoos. I hate them. I can't imagine anything I feel passionate about now that I am certain I will always feel equally passionate about, except perhaps my two daughters. And do I really need to Facebook them on my skin? Tattoos always fade and blur and look awful after a few years. Yet people never seem to regret them, which I think is an interesting fact about the human psyche. Skin, especially young skin, is supremely beautiful, and shouldn't be messed with. Tattoos, after a few months of pristine clarity, always degenerate and look kind of shabby, bruise-like, dirty and messy. Boy, I sound like such a harridan about this. But this is how it strikes me.

    I cannot stand that man's beard. I can only imagine that he comes across as incandescently charismatic in person; otherwise how does he woo the ladies into bed?

  6. Soooo, I have a Ball jar tattoo as well. Whatever canning was, or what you perceived it to be it is an enjoyable activity for me now. I got the tattoo after I won a pickle making competition. For me it showed my love and kind of obsession for canning. I am proud of it. I can because of my dedication to eating local and in season. Because of this I can eat local tomatoes all year long, I don't ever use store bought pickles, I eat only my own jam which helps control the sugar levels in my diet, my salads are accented by fantastic beets and asparagus and peppers. Next time don't judge people based on their tattoos, it's horribly biased and close-minded. Tattoos may not be for you, but I don't judge you based on the fact that you have none so it would be kind of you to offer the rest of us the same.

  7. Canning jar tattoos on a body are ridiculous. You must be fairly young and really haven't lived through much of the difficulties of life and death, loss,love,the incandescence of birth ,,raising children, watching parents grow old... Well I could go on and on. Yep, I'm judging you. But it's your body ,your life and now I have moved on. ;)

  8. Yet people never seem to regret them

    Oh yes they do. My sister and my friend have each spent hundreds of dollars trying to get their tattoos removed. My friend says she will let her daughter get a tattoo over her dead body.