Saturday, July 07, 2007

San Salvador Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 15-20 knots in morning and late afternoon, less at dawn and dusk

Under the table, for the last two weeks, two pounds of butter has been sitting in a ziploc bathed in a pot full of coolish seawater, staring at me accusingly. I bought four pounds of butter at Exuma Market after having read Lin Pardey’s story of canning butter in old peanut-butter jars in Malta. If she can do it, I thought, why can’t I? It is, or was, delicious New Zealand butter, for the cheap price of 99 cents a pound, cheaper even than the price for which I could buy vegetable oil at the market.

The butter has been haunting me ever since. Its first act was to unscrew the bottle of dark cider vinegar (also cheap) it was bagged with and soak itself in stinky vinegar, causing me to have to return to the grocery store, the site of my doom, and ask for a replacement for both vinegar and butter. (The vinegar’s lid was not properly sealed, nor should the two items have been bagged together. Nevertheless, I should have taken this omen as a sign of the butter’s unrelenting future torment.) Then, upon returning to the boat, I discovered that even frozen butter does not take well to endless ninety-degree heat. The butter promptly dissolved all over the icebox in a layer of grease that probably is what attracted the egg-laying of flies.

So I salvaged two pounds of it and mashed them into a tupperware, where it has been growing mold every day since, which I need to scrape off before cooking with the now slightly orange and cheesy butter. The remaining two pounds were plonked into a ziploc and Karl has been dutifully drawing seawater for them every day, to keep them marginally cool, at least five degrees cooler than the rest of the boat. This was our compromise after yet another ice argument--I had wanted to buy ice in Georgetown, ice that would prolong the life of our lettuce and spinach and butter and cheese and eggs and ground beef, but Karl, as always, thinks that ice is a useless extravagance. The Pardeys claim to spend $150 on ice a year, and I don’t see the harm of spending that much money on something that would make our lives so much more pleasurable. Even ice-cold lemonade for those first three days at sea is worth it, in my book. But I guess $13 a month is far, far too much money.

So the butter has sat, staring at me from under the table, in its bath of seawater, awaiting its canning. I’ve never canned anything before in my life. The process seemed simple upon first read--boil the jars, fill them with butter, then fill them with boiling, salted water. After two weeks of staring at the butter, however, it seemed vastly more complicated. For one, what an atrocious waste of all that fresh water! For another, the heat! And thirdly, was my poor pitiful butter even worth canning after such atrocious mistreatment? What about its state of liquidity? How can you can a liquid with water? Wouldn’t it just mix with the salt and water to create some sort of god-awful salad dressing?

Every day, I’ve resolved to can the butter. And every day, the butter has gone uncanned. The other day, during our windy sail, the pot full of butter slid all the way across the cabin and upturned, spreading the sole with greasy butter-water, which seasick Karl has to clean up. Still, today was my day to can the butter. I made no other task for myself. I didn’t wake up until eleven, avoiding the evil glare of the butter, and then I read until five PM, afraid to attack the butter.

Finally, I dared to open the ziploc. The butter had molded beyond all recognition, but when I peeled back the green and furry paper exterior, the butter on the inside looked fresh and yellow. My hopes rose. Maybe Karl’s water treatment had worked. Maybe the butter was salvageable after all.

I boiled some old, clean salsa jars in a very small amount of fresh water, spinning them with tongs to immerse them completely, then drying them on a clean cloth. The butter was jammed into one jar, and Karl canned some slightly ripe tomatoes in the second jar as another canning experiment. We topped them off with salted fresh water and screwed the lids on tight. We may have even successfully prevented future decay. At any rate, the butter’s out from under the table.

The irony is that I’m all out of the old butter, so I’m going to need to open my can of fresh butter in about three days. I may hold off out of curiosity, just to see if it keeps. Still, life on the boat seems to be reduced to endless attempts to keep the demons of mold and rot away, to keep our food edible. It would be easier, I suppose, to just live off cans. I can’t bear it, though.

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