Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On Canning and Preserving

My mother was born and raised in Roanoke, Virginia. She grew up on a farm with hogs, pigs, chickens, cows, a horse, and a huge garden. Canning and preserving were a regular part of her life.

So you would expect that once she left Virginia and moved to New York that she would do what most other people did and buy tomato sauce, green beans and jams at Pathmark. Right? Ha! Not my mom!!!

My mother appreciated the value and beauty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. She also appreciated their taste when canned and preserved -- not with chemicals that most of us can not pronounce, much less spell -- with the most minimal of additives (e.g. alum, Sure-Jell, vinegar and spices).

Every summer, our house turned into Canning Central. Summers meant trips to farms to pick vegetables and fruit. Or to the farmers' market. Mommy's job was to find the recipes that we would make. There was no shortage. We made pickled pole and bush beans, peach-rum conserve, tomato ketchup, watermelon rind pickles, apple butter, canned peaches (which we put on top of homemade vanilla ice cream, which was put on top of homemade pound cake), brandied pears, chow-chow, and countless other goodies!

Daddy's job was to run to the supermarket or farmers' market 8-10 times/day. Mommy always needed something else. Daddy loved all the hustle and bustle as much as we did, so he never complained about yet another shopping list that Mommy handed him. And he supervised the hot water baths on the basement stove that mom set up to accommodate a huge pot that wouldn't fit on the kitchen stove that had a hood. She and Daddy actually bought my godmother Nellie's old stove, which had 4 eyes, but no hood. You could fit huge pots on that! And, Daddy made gorgeous labels in calligraphy.

Sherri (my sister) was the chopper, peeler, and slicer. Sometimes she would go with Daddy on his trips to the store.

I often found myself measuring, stirring, skimming, boiling, and watching. Jams and jellies had to be cooked over the stove and skimmed. The Ball jars had to be washed in the dishwasher and then sterilized. The paraffin had to be melted in the small speckled pan over low heat, ready just in time to seal the jelly. The beans had to be washed. The vinegar mixture with whole spices (cloves, pepper, etc.) had to be just right. I liked to make sure that the beans were uniform so that they looked a certain way when they were in the jars.

The most satisfying part of the process was working as a family. And then watching as Mommy and Daddy transferred those jars of gorgeous treats into the window sill. I can still remember the sunlight streaming into the kitchen window, shining through the apple jelly or brandied pears. The rays of light would dance between the space where the cinnamon stick met the pears. Eating the fruit of our labor (pun intended) was always a blast!

I remember our neighbor coming over one day and looking at all the jars we had put up that day. Her eyes grew huge and I swear I could see her mouth watering. My mother was gracious and didn't demand that Martha grovel. She offered her a jar of tomato ketchup, which Martha eagerly took. It was a huge hit.

I have never forgotten those wonderful summers of canning and preserving. And I still do it myself from time to time.

We're starting strawberry season here in Massachusetts. I should be able to find paraffin and jelly jars, right?


  1. Ah! The good old days! I has quite forgotten my role in the canning process!
    Thanks for reminding me!

  2. Interesting information. Thanks for sharing.