Opinion | My Grandmother Knew a Secret: Survival Can Be Stored in a Jar

Opinion | My Grandmother Knew a Secret: Survival Can Be Stored in a Jar


I covered my kitchen table with germinating seeds and infant plants: cabbages, cauliflower, snap peas, bush beans. In tiny plastic pots I sprouted three kinds of mint, golden sage and purple basil, and began to make plans. After Mother’s Day, I’ll put tomato plants in the ground. When the beans get leggy, I’ll give them a trellis to climb. I counted out my Mason jars, and wrote down every preserve and pickle recipe I could remember. In short order, I’ll be putting things up in my own pantry.

With every step, my anxiety dissipated, and I felt more prepared, and full of purpose. Every seed I pressed into the soil felt like an investment in a secure future. The coming weeks and months still loom with uncertainty and alarm, but however the world is fundamentally changed on the other side, I’ll have jars of roasted peppers, raspberry jelly and enough tomato sauce to share.

Months ago, while reporting a story about migrating bison in Yellowstone National Park, I spoke to a biologist who told me bison and people are the same. “We’re not like butterflies, or salmon, born with a map in our heads,” he said. “Mammals like us, we learn from our mothers, who learned from their mothers, all the way back.”

That’s ancestral memory, he explained, and it helps us survive. This is the secret my grandmother knew, that survival can be stored in a jar. Now, I’ll use it to busy my hands, ease my mind, preserve my memories and prepare for whatever comes next.

Kate Morgan is a journalist who writes about science and food.

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