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July 20, 2008

I spent all day Saturday, canning, well not really all day, just my “spare” time not allotted for regular chores.  This isn’t a how-to post, just my reflections about food preservation. 

Kerr canning jar manufactured in 1957, the year I was born.//" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Food preservation is part of my life everyday, as it has been since I was born.  Not just canning, but all sorts of seasonal food preservation.  At this time of year my life is defined by some of the many words that we humans have affixed to food stuffs, for people and animals.   Pounds, bushels, boxes, bales, quarts, pints, tons, and dozen just to name a few.  The numbers 7, 40, and 52 are always on my mind.  There are 7 quarts to a canner load,  52 weeks in a year, and if the bales are 50#’s there will be 40 in a ton.  And, this is just food for us and our livestock, and doesn’t even count the weekly load of firewood that we try to get put into the woodshed.

Yesterday, as I was processing the cherries with my daughter, my mind could wander and I thought about that jar purchased the year I was born.  Since it is a wide mouth squatty pint, it probably was destined for my sisters 4-H canning projects.  Wide mouth jars are easy to pack, and this style was popular at that time.  How spoiled am I, my Mom and sisters had to can on the wood cookstove, I’m just using it as extra counter space during the summer.  Then as I watched my daughter sorting, eating and sneaking cherries to the dogs, what I really saw was her as a baby, lying on a quilt on the floor, playing with canning rings.  She too has been steeped in the ways of food preservation.  What stories our kitchen, the hub of our house, could tell, how many jars of canned goods has it seen?   How many conversations of life, all intertwined with food has this kitchen been privy to?  There is no way to keep track, the kitchen was last remodeled in 1926, and we’re still canning there, not fancy, but dark and cool and with good views out to the barn and pasture beyond.  Will my daughter can and preserve like I do?  I don’t know, but she will certainly know how.  And, hopefully have good memories of canning like I do.

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The manual for my Mom’s new canner, guess who “wrote” in it.

May I have a cherry please?

Gimme a cherry!

Spoiled dogs!

These days you almost have to go on the internet and read blogs, (thank heavens for the blogging community) to hear the conversations that used to be so common among neighbors.  “14 quarts of beans and enough left over for a mess.”  Mess meant a enough for a side dish at dinner, or to read recipes that say:  “makes 7 quarts of mincemeat and one pie.”   Some of us never quit canning, and now it is trendy (again) to stock up.  But, I think that is a good thing.  We, as a population, in general have become too dependent on the store, or someone else to provide for us.  Some people I know are basically helpless, they can’t build a fire and they have no clue about the food that they put in their mouths, how it is grown, where it comes from and sometimes what it even is.  One time, while we were still making our own chicken feed, DH was hauling a load of whole corn kernels loose in our pickup box.  He had to stop at the local feedstore to get minerals, and the teenager who brought out the bags, remarked, “That sure is whole lot of something there, that you have in the back.”  For the love of Zea mays, how can you be old enough to obtain a drivers license and not know what corn looks like, unless Tony the Tiger is selling it to you?  I mean Geez, I’m no stranger to Doritos, or Dr. Pepper which are mostly corn, but everytime I eat junk food, I know it as junk food, probably not good for me, and most likely made out of corn.

As for my canning efforts, I only want to can that food that meet certain criteria:
♥  Tastes better canned than frozen (subjective, depending on your family).
♥  The food won’t keep unless I process it in someway.  If I can store food without any energy expenditure, (mine or electricity) I do it.  I try to grow things in the garden that don’t need canning or processing.
♥  Someone in the family wants to eat this food for more than just the short season it is available.
♥  Preventing waste, in an abundant fruit year.  We normally only have a good set on some of our fruit trees every 3 years or so, because of our rainy spring weather.  I give some to friends, but still want to can 2 years worth of some things.  I have a good storage area, so my canned food keeps well.
♥  I can because I enjoy the process, and the link to friends, family, and mentors – some who are gone and some still here.

Canning to me is just one continuous thread that I don’t want to cut.  I look forward to canning season, and I also look forward to its end.  Just like so many other chores we have.  Living like we do, brings diversity to our lives, and keeps it from being boring.  It is hard work, YES, but it keeps us out of trouble.  The infamous Western Oregon “on-shore flow” came in yesterday, making it too wet to bale the hay during the morning hours.  So DH cut, split and hauled a load of firewood, before going to the hayfield.

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I wish they would stay this color.

Tally so far:  48 quarts of whole cherries, 1 didn’t seal.  Seven loads with seven quarts each.

For a good read on what other people are doing food preservation-wise, check Causabon’s Book, this site deals with peak oil, but the Independence Days challenge posts are chock full of great information.  Happy food preserving.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2008 1:58 pm

    I’m trying not to can this year – it really makes little sense to move filled jars across country in the spring, and I always can “more than I should.”

    I miss it.

    My mom always had a full pantry of jewel-like jars winking from the dark cupboard at us. Most years I make jam, preserves – some chutneys and pickles, and rely on the freezer for the rest.

    Most folks I know in the city haven’t a clue where to begin, and couldn’t see the reason “why” if they knew how.

  2. July 20, 2008 6:57 pm

    Yum! A stocked pantry is better than money in the bank, and all those jewel-toned glass jars are so very beautiful. The best artwork, I say. Like you, I can because it makes sense, because I enjoy it and because of the connections it makes in my memory and soul.

  3. July 20, 2008 7:27 pm

    Your canned cherries look beautiful! I love cherries. My young trees gave me enough for a taste this year, hopefully next year will be better.

    Like you, I have wonderful memories of our kitchen, learning to can with my Mom, using her Mom’s recipes and those of other’s that have been passed down. My Mom and I still can together. I cherish those times with her.

  4. July 21, 2008 5:52 am

    Great post! Funny how our minds run in similar channels. I was thinking the other day, after coming home to catch up on all my blog friends, that blogging is like the back yard fence of my great grandmother’s day. Not that we exactly gossip, but rather share ideas and stories. I would sure miss it if I couldn’t communicate this way.

  5. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 21, 2008 6:05 am

    Hayden, it doesn’t make sense to do all that work and then risk breakage or even pay the shipping costs to transport canned items to Michigan. I wasn’t going to can as much this year, but our electricity rates have already gone up, and now they are talking about aa 35% increase in addition. I love my freezers, but I’m going to have to cut back and only freeze items that we don’t prefer canned.

    I like your description of your Mom’s canning cupboard. It sounds wonderful. There is something about the mix of colors and shapes that are so appealing and I think a pat on the back for all the canners hard work. What an impression it must have made on you, to be able to sample summers bounty, lovingly preserved by your Mom’s hands.

    It isn’t just the city folk who have no clue, our acreage dwelling neighbors rarely come out of the house. The settlement next to us used to be a riding stable. Now there are 8 homes on 15 acres. The homes range from mobile homes to one monstrosity. Only one family recycles and is frugal, although the husband won’t let the wife garden. (??? what’s up with that?) So I know none of them are prepared, or even care to be. They remind me of the motorists, who despite the warning to merge into one lane, drive to the front and pretend that they didn’t see the many signs. Taking cuts po’s me, they just wait for someone to feel sorry for them and let them in. It will be the same way with these people if food becomes scarce for some reason.

    Kathie, it sure is a good feeling to see all those jars lining up, filled and replacing the empties. This is one way to suspend the food prices for a little while. It is money in the bank, just like our growing firewood and hay stacks. I’m always fascinated by the colors, and just how pleasing the food looks, no matter what is on the shelves. It is such a strong connection to the past, I love to can, and I don’t mind the work of it.

    Debi, thanks, our young trees are getting nervous, since we are staring at the few cherries they have. It doesn’t look like they will be ripe for at least two weeks. Someday, they will produce enough – sigh.

    I liked canning with my Mom too, although she was terribly unorganized in the kitchen. Doing the hard work together, always made a big job seem small. I bet your Mom is proud of you, carrrying on the tradition and seeing your farm take shape. Those will be wonderful memories.

    Threecollie, I know what you mean, our neighbors pretty much keep to themselves, and none are involved in any kind of food growing on any scale. They all work in town and just sleep in the country, most coming home and turning around and going right back at night for entertainment. Conversations with us would be pretty boring. At least on the internet, you can “talk” with people in the same boat, that are going through the same challenges. A new community, but a community, none the less. I’m a homebody by choice, but it is nice to “get out” once in awhile. 🙂

  6. July 21, 2008 9:50 am

    What a beautiful post.

    You’re on the “other side” from me… prime gardening area. I’m a bit envious, for our high desert is not as conducive to growing stuff.

    Thanks for sharing your bounty.

  7. jordansfarm permalink
    July 21, 2008 12:01 pm

    Looks like you have been busy , too. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a great week. Becky

  8. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 21, 2008 4:45 pm

    Meadowlark, thank you, you’ve got your work cut out for you on the east side. My sister gardened in Medical Springs for about 10 years and what a gamble that was. You never knew if that frost was coming or not.
    Thanks for stopping by.

    Becky, thanks to you too, and don’t work too hard.

  9. July 22, 2008 2:13 am

    Just look at those cherries! Oh, my youngest absolutely loves them. She puts a significant dent in whatever cherry bounty we have! Regarding canning, only yesterday, my hubby was telling me how his mom used to make homemade grape juice. The process involved canning somehow, and he said it tasted more refreshing than sweet. For the past couple of years, I’ve been on a quest to learn skills such as this. He was raised a country boy who helped his relatives farm land in Indiana where we are originally from. I’m a city girl who passes longing looks at the country life, and I’ve much to learn. I’ve come a long way, though, and the skills I’ve learned are being passed onto my wee ones. My kids would adore your dogs. The one has coloring similar to a Burnese Mountain Dog which my youngest dreams about all the time! Looking forward to your next post!

  10. July 22, 2008 5:12 am

    I remember my mom cooking with me when I was a child but I do not know that she ever preserved a thing. I can vaguely remember a garden in our back yard. It is a wonderful that you have memories of your Mom and canning and you will pass on memories and the how to’s to your daughter! I am glad that my children are involved with our journey on the farm, I am confident that these will be the things they remember and cherrish most! Have a nice week, Kim

  11. July 22, 2008 7:14 am

    What a wonderful post!

    I feel very much the same way about the blogging community. I do not have any local friends that live the way we do. They have in the most recent years began to ask me questions and visit us with a bit of longing for a taste of the country. I’m not sure they are ready to lose the “convenience” of the city or $5 ready-made pizzas, but there are subtle changes.

    Last year, we went camping with another family. I brought along all home canned goods: salsa, pickles, jams, tomato sauce, baked beans. After eating from most of the jars, the husband kept asking me, “You really canned all of this?” I thought maybe he didn’t believe me or something.

    Well, this year he put in a huge garden (they had planned to move to a Mcmansion type property in order to live the “country life” similar to the one you describe for your neighbors, but for financial reasons didn’t pan out). I gave them some seedlings and went over recently to check out his work. I told him how great it was and we picked zucchini and pickling cucumbers. He beamed with pride.

    Before I left, he asked me if I could show A. (his wife) how to can pickles. I couldn’t believe it! I guess without any effort I had developed the belief people didn’t can because they didn’t want to, not because they had not had any exposure and didn’t have a clue where to start (I grew up in a canning family and so had a basis to start with when I began to can).

    So, we have plans to learn. He seems more of a willing student than his wife who will do it simply because he seems to want her to learn. I think she still thinks the grocery store is all she’ll ever need.

    I’m glad I found so many kindred-spirits on the internet or I would be very lonely!

  12. July 22, 2008 2:09 pm

    MOH, I am canning green beans as I read your post and it helps to pass the time while watching the canner. I really enjoy all of your posts but this one really hits home. We as a people have become to dependent on the store for things and I am glad to know there are some of us out here who want that to change. The beans I am canning are the neighbors who doesn’t have the time and ask if I wanted to can them for half. We ofcourse I do. I am gonna have beans running out of my ears before long but I will have plenty for sure. The word around here is that they are selling for $80.00 a bushel, so I am glad to can all that I can.


    P.S. PINK, it’s my new obsession!!!

  13. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 23, 2008 10:01 pm

    Paula, the cherries are so beautiful, we eat so many, knowing it will be a full year before we can savor that taste again. I couldn’t blame your kids for putting a dent in the supply.

    Isn’t it interesting how fond memories convince people to try and replicate what our grandmothers did. Grape juice is easy and it tastes soooo much better than what is available in stores. Your husband nailed it, it is refreshing.
    My husband was raised in town too, he has taken to country life quite well. Your kids will be naturals, since you are exposing them to home type skills. Some people don’t even know how to cook anymore – which is hard to believe.

    Our new dog is colored like a Mtn. dog, although much smaller at 65 pounds. That is a beautiful breed, your kids have good taste.

    Kim, I think you’re right about your kids, they learn so much faster than we do as adults. Even if they don’t want to continue farming, they will have learned valuable life lessons from your farm adventures and from the people who love them the most! That’s what counts.

    Don’t work too hard this week!

    Gina, thanks, blogging has become a way to connect, in a way that I never imagined. I have one canning friend, and we talk, and wish our places connected so we could work together, but it is not to be. Still, we pick up supplies for each other, and share good deals on food and then keep track of each others work, so I have someone at least to share with locally.

    I think you are right, it is intimidating if you don’t know where to start. I taught a woman I job shared with, because she was shamed by her MIL. I helped her a lot that first summer, and her husband was elated, because he had a beautiful garden and was stuck between the two females in his life. Good for you for getting them started. She might find out she likes canning. I love doing it and seeing the end result, plus it is sooo good.

    Sometimes I think the grocery stores we know today, may not be there tomorrow…

    Chris, I swear you are making me too jealous. Good for you on getting those beans. You will have a good supply and the neighbor will wonder (maybe) why he gave them away. Once their canned, they will keep. My beans are a long way off yet, it looks like September will be very busy around here.

    P.S. Pink, it’s like red, but not quite.

  14. July 27, 2008 9:55 pm

    Those look great. I would be nice if they stayed so bright. I canned some rhubarb compote last Tuesday and cooked it on the wood stove. It was cold and rainy and I was making rhubarb juice at the same time. It took 5 pieces of wood only and I got a lot done. I have more canning to do this summer and autumn as well and I will be doing some freezing along the way too.

  15. July 30, 2008 6:33 am

    Dawn, that is great it only took 5 pieces of wood. I admire that my Mom canned so much on the woodstove. I have the choice now, but she didn’t. Now I don’t want to use the wood unless it is cold out. Most of my memories of canning are during cold and rainy times, and keeping the jars out of drafts etc. Our heaviest canning season is in September and it is sometimes quite cool.

    As I read blogs from other places, I’m amazed that people already have enough produce to can. I saw on one list, someone had canned 159 quarts of beans, in July. I long sometimes for a longer growing season for warm weather crops, and then I see how many insect problems that brings, and I realize I’m glad I live where I do.

    The rhubarb compote sounds delicious.

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