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 where 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.