Fremont County, Iowa

"Fall Memories"
by Emily Bengston

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of October 26, 2009

Fall always brings thoughts of helping Grandma, and Mother, as we stored food for the winter. It was a two-season process because we canned all summer and then packed away food during the fall. When I was a little girl, I never thought much about everything we did to store food. Now as I reflect, I realize generations of knowledge were handed down to my grandmother and mother, who in turn were teaching me.

My memories of canning are always associated with sweat rolling down my face. Corncobs fueled Grandma's stove. The canner was a large copper boiler, that covered at least two of the round stove lids. The prepared jars of food, were set, in the boiler in water. The jars were boiled long enough to cook, and sterilize the contents. Peaches and peas were a quick process because we only boiled them for an hour. Back then, there were all kinds of stories about green beans and salmonella. Therefore, green beans had to be boiled for at least two hours. There were no freezers, so meat was canned and then boiled for three or more hours. The jar lids were sealed with rubber rings and galvanized tin lids. These lids were not removed until the food was eaten. To me, it seemed we always canned on the hottest day of the year. My sister, Mary Ann, and I had the hot job of continually feeding the stove with corncobs for hours.

Cellars were also part of getting ready for winter. They were referred to as caves because they were generally built into a hill to provide an underground year 'round cool dry place to store uncanned food. The caves were also a source for stories about snakes. You always paused for a minute when you entered a cellar to makes sure there were not any slithering visitors looking for mice. The Mason crock was the mainstay, for storing food. Apples and pears were put in barrels and stored in the cellar. As winter went on, the apples and pears shriveled, and were not as beautiful as in the fall, but they were still good eating. Root crops like parsnips and carrots were stored in barrels of sand.

One of my favorite things was sausage. The sausage was cooked, placed in a ten-gallon crock and covered with melted fat. I recall my Uncle Malvern saying to me, "let's have sausage for breakfast." I would go over and reach into the crock and pull out the sausage for a wonderful breakfast with eggs. Pork was put down in barrels of a strong salt-and seasonings-water brine to make ham and bacon.

We spent the summer and fall picking berries of all kinds to make jams and jellies. Our favorite was a mixture of cherries, mulberries and rhubarb. There is nothing better than warm homemade bread with butter and jam.

Sweet corn did not exist. We cleaned field corn, cut it from the cob and laid the kernels between two screens and put them in a sunny place on Grandma's porch. The sun did its magic and we enjoyed dried corn dishes all winter. It had a warm carmel taste that was great.

I collect cookbooks. When I find a cookbook that covers canning, I think of all that work that resulted in so much good eating.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau