When I was a kid, my mom was always an avid “canner” of vegetables and preserver of fruit. She would put up plum preserves that we would feast on throughout the winter. Just place some of that dark-colored, sugary concoction on some warm toast or homemade bread ..and I’m one happy camper. Along with the plum preserves, she also put up vast amounts of green beans, tomatoes, and her special brand of pickles. My dad’s primary task on his “canning honey-do” list was being the gardener in the family and every year he planted a good-sized garden that took up the majority of our backyard. With this task came another responsibility – being the “watcher” over what amounted to his pride n’ joy. He would spend quiet evenings sitting on our back patio – just watching the garden. My younger self never understood how someone could just sit still ..and now I envy that he was able to relax in a way that I have yet to be able to do. On some of those quiet evenings there would also inevitably be a “fight” with the local squirrels on who was going to eat our corn first – but in the end, dad usually prevailed.
I have vivid memories of that garden and I recall grabbing a salt shaker on more than one occasion and picking cucumbers right from the vine to eat. I also recall getting yelled at because mom wanted those for the pickles. However, at the end of the season – there always seemed to be far more fresh produce then we could eat …hence mom canned annually.
Several of her lady friends also canned and we always wound up with some unusual items – pickle eggs, pickled beets, canned mushrooms and the like. One story I recall mom telling me was about the year that one of her friends – who was a novice at canning – decided she’d try to can spaghetti sauce. Needless to say, something didn’t go quite right and the poor woman spent the winter cleaning sauce off of her kitchen ceiling.
Those early days in fall were spent watching my mom in the kitchen while the windows steamed over from her changing out caning jars in the process of moving the next batch to the water bath on the stove. I have to admit, I was never really involved in this particular “cooking” process because between all the fresh vegetables, pots, spices and other canning supplies; there wasn’t really any room left in our small kitchen in N.Y. for anyone but my mom. However, what I do remember is her annual fall labor of love that would feed my dad, herself and I well into March or April. After the chaos calmed down, I remember walking into our dinning room /canning operation sweatshop and feasting my eyes on all of the goodies. It also always amazed me that those same beautiful jars would lose some of their “luster” by the end of March when I had more than my share of tomatoes, green beans and mom’s garlicky pickles and personally never wanted them again – that is until the following year when the whole process repeated itself.
I think that’s why to this day, when the air starts to get a chill – I crave green beans, tomatoes and pickles. I also think that’s why for the first time ever, I plan to “attempt” to can some vegetables this fall. Not really sure what vegetables will wind up in a jar – but I think I may find something other than the “usual”. Perhaps a weekend visit to the local farmer’s market is in order.