By P.D. Dickinson
Fall was always busy for my family because it was the time when we canned, froze and stored fruits and vegetables from the garden. We also stockpiled meats in the freezer to feed us during the winter to come.
Everyone had their parts to play in the canning and freezing work. We kids were always given the job of washing the canning jars. Our hands were small enough to fit inside and rinse out any dust or residue that accumulated from the previous year. We’d all be seated in a circle around a large tin washtub with washcloths and bottle brushes. The tub was filled with warm soapy water and placed outside the kitchen door in the yard to avoid us wetting down the house as we cleaned.
Canning the garden vegetables and fruits as well as freezing meats was and still is a big part of the self-sufficiency we farming families are proud of. In our family, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents gathered together for this activity like we did for everything else.
We would all join together picking, gathering and plucking ripe fruits and vegetables that had been nurtured all summer long. Ladies, girls, sometimes menfolk and boys would sit around boxes, bags or tubs of green beans and pass on the time with conversation, stories, jokes or just teasing each other.
We’d lay the whole green beans on either our aproned laps or in bowls to be stringed and broken up into bite-sized pieces for washing, packing in jars and finally heat-sealed canning in pressure cookers.
The pressure cookers could be dangerous if you didn’t know what you were doing or didn’t monitor the pressure well enough. Once, one of my aunts was using the cooker to can green beans and didn’t pay attention to the pressure buildup inside. The next thing we knew, we heard a big BOOM and ran into the kitchen to see what had happened. Luckily no one was hurt, but there stood our aunt with a dismayed look on her face and her hair full of green bits. The green beans along with broken glass from the canning jars covered the stove, the wall, the ceiling and our aunt.
Another popular canning food was tomatoes. One year in particular, we’d raised a really large crop for all our families to share. We washed, peeled, cooked and canned tomatoes until we could barely stand the smell of them. We had tomato juice, whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, red tomato ketchup, green tomato ketchup, frozen green tomatoes, tomato preserves, tomato soup mixture and anything else they could think of to make with tomatoes.
Besides all the canning of vegetables and fruit, we also did a lot of pickling. Vegetables could be pickled as well as the standard cucumber. We pickled okra, cauliflower, carrots, green tomatoes, beets, onions and more — we had more kinds of pickles than anyone could imagine.
We had regular sweet and dill pickles, until one of my aunts got a pickling recipe book, and the ladies began swapping pickling recipes. As a result, we had seven-day pickles, eight-day pickles, 10-day pickles, 14-day pickles, sweet and sour pickles, bread and butter pickles, freezer pickles, million dollar pickles, cinnamon pickles, watermelon rind pickles and a plethora of other colorfully named pickle creations. At least it gave us a good variety so we couldn’t get bored with them.
All the pickling, canning, freezing, preserving and drying of the foods we’d raised was enjoyable as well as educational because we did it together we learned how to be sustainable through the winter.
No matter how busy we were as a family, we always seemed to make time. In the end, we relished the time we spent together working, playing, planning and preparing for the first winter’s snow.