From My Childhood – a Canner Can Can

March 6 – More memories of food prep from my childhood…

Green beans, quarts and quarts of them, cooked for almost an hour in the pressure cooker that held nine quarts. We kids sat outside snipping off ends and breaking the long slender beans into shorter pieces to fit in the jar. Sometimes Ma would make several quarts of whole beans for later winter salads. Purple prunes were canned at just the right time so that later they would form a sort of jelly substance in the top of the jar. Then when the jars were opened, I felt that this was the best part of the whole thing, eating that jelly.

Old-fashioned root cellar

Old-fashioned root cellar

Canning corn. I’ll never forget that time of year. Bushels and bushels of golden yellow ears were picked, shucked, put in boiling water for a few minutes, cooled, and sent on to the cutters who waited at the table outside the kitchen door. Knives moved up and down along the ear quickly until only cobs remained by the bushelful. Big bowls and pans of freshly-cut kernels with milky juice were put into steaming hot jars, loosely packed, and flavored with salt. They were then cooked for an hour in the pressure cooker., Hours and hours of time were spent canning that corn, but as usual, when our job was done, Ma had hers yet to do. Sometimes she guarded the pressure cooker till one o’clock in the morning until the last load came out. After several days of this the cellar shelves were bright with the jars of golden goodness, ready for use in the winter.

Later, after the tomatoes had been processed into juice, puree, and chili sauce, it was time for the peaches to be preserved. Golden yellow Jubilee or Red Havens, with the heavenly aroma peculiar to sun-ripened peaches, were first dumped into boiling water, then quickly removed and plunged into cold water. Then the skins just melted off in our hands. The peaches were sliced, and popped into the boiling sugary syrup, to be cooked for a time before being spooned into the waiting jars, the foam skimmed off, and the tops screwed on tight. Sometimes, however, we got a hard-to-skin bunch of peaches, and Ma had to put some lye into the boiling water to help take off the skins. But no matter what kind of peach we bought or picked from our own trees, all ended up in our dishes come winter, full of flavor and sweet goodness. Peach butter or peach marmalade tasted good on toast for breakfast, too.

Walnut gravy - an experiment gone bad

Walnut gravy – an experiment gone bad

One thing that just didn’t seem to turn out right though, was a strange dish someone from church had passed on to Ma. And that was walnut gravy. Will we ever forget that gooey purplish mass that was supposed to be put on our mashed potatoes? Nobody could bear the thought of that sickening-looking stuff ruining our potatoes, so after the first mandatory taste, the rest of the gravy was wasted.

Another time after we first got a blender, Ma read that putting egg shells into the muffin mix would provide us with extra calcium, giving us a better chance for strong bones and teeth. I can still feel the gritty bits and pieces of shell that crunched between our teeth. And the potato soup made from the baked potato skins was a real taste experience… Seeing our distaste for fad things like those, Ma decided to stick with her own brand of cooking, and all of us were much happier! – CHRIS

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