Preserving the Seasons: September, Week 5
Since I started this month's Preserving the Seasons posts so early in the month, you get a bonus for the series. And guess what? You don't even have to do any work for it. Just sit back, and I'll unfold a tale or two...
One of the best things to come from this year's CSA subscription -- and quite possibly, THE best -- has been the opportunity to spend time with My Wonderful Parents, to talk about food and farming and the things that concern and delight me about both, and to hear their views and their stories about what things were like when they were growing up.
They've told me about the gardens their families grew, the refrigeration business the Chef Mother's father ran, the composting practices of My Dear Papa's father, and so on. And the more I heard, the more I wanted them to document those memories.
So I asked them on one of our CSA pickup trips, "Why don't you write these things down?" I figured if I could learn from them, so could my Dear Readers, especially those who have been so interested in the Preserving series.
One day, I received a thick envelope in the mail -- with five pages of those memories, from both My Wonderful Parents, along with the permission to share them with you. So I'll try to distill what they have so graciously offered.
The Chef Mother remembers beginning to help tend the garden around the age of six or seven, starting with weeding. She notes that weeding wasn't too difficult "because the garden had really been cleared before planting. Daddy hired a guy with a tractor to plow and disc [the plot]," which cut off a large number of weeds before they could establish themselves.
The family grew a wide variety of vegetables with the intention of preserving most of the harvest while enjoying some in season:
--beets, parsnips, green peppers, Brussels sprouts, radishes, and greens appeared at the dinner table for fresh seasonal produce;
--tomatoes, cucumbers (for pickles), and peaches all were canned, with some tomato juice and catsup also included;
--apples and sauce (from an aunt's trees), corn, black raspberries, elderberries, peaches, winter squash, peas, lima beans, spinach, green and wax beans all ended up in a large double-door freezer (probably the first in town!);
--popcorn, white and sweet potatoes, onions, green tomatoes wrapped in newspaper all got stored in the basement in boxes;
--salsify, some carrots, and turnips were covered with hay and left in the ground to dig up after frosts;
--jams and jellies made from quince (a tree in the backyard), apples, grapes, raspberries, peaches.
At the age of seven or eight, the Chef Mother started helping her mother preserve the harvest, starting with peaches. Though she didn't use knives regularly until a few years later, she was able to peel the peaches and pack them "pit side down so they looked good" before her mother added the hot syrup. As the Chef Mother became involved in 4-H, she learned more about preservation, and by the age of twelve "I could pack up a storm" with quarts of tomatoes, pickles, and peaches lining the root cellar shelves.
While their garden certainly produced a good deal of food for a family of (eventually) six, the Chef Mother indicates that they bought (and gathered) other foods for storage:
--two bushels of peaches from Catawba Island (usually Golden Jubilees)
--cherries from near Clyde, Ohio (and some from an aunt's trees)
--one peck pears
--plums from the neighbor
--black walnuts and hickory nuts (her father's favorite) from along the country roads
And though this all sounds like a lot of hard work, they made it a celebration, with a week-long pickling extravaganza for the family hot dill pickles, and pea-shelling and bean-snapping parties in the backyard (I can even remember something like this as a young child, sitting under the big tree out back).
My Dear Papa, though not as involved in the preservation work as the Chef Mother was, reports a similar childhood. His family also had an extensive garden that managed to feed five:
--Fordhook lima beans (usually picked large and starchy), wax and green (Kentucky Wonder) beans, peas, cucumbers
--Silver Queen white corn and Golden Bantam yellow corn
--acorn and summer squashes
--Danvers half long carrots
Other family members shared produce from their gardens and fruit trees: asparagus and Hubbard squash from his grandparents, quince from an aunt and uncle in the area, and blackberries from an aunt in Conneaut. Neighbors willingly shared surplus produce back and forth, and My Dear Papa remembers foraging for hickory nuts, black walnuts, and beech nuts (some from a nearby golf course).
Their family did not have a freezer until many years later, so canning was the primary method of food preservation. He remembers his mother preserving:
--catsup, pickle relish, cucumber relish, green tomato relish
--pickled and not-pickled pears, peaches (Hale Haven and Golden Jubilee), plums (purple and yellow), cherries, tomatoes
--bread and butter pickles, some mustard pickles
--jellies: grape, apple, apricot, quince
In addition, My Dear Papa notes that they raised their own chickens and had plenty of eggs, and with all this other food coming in from the garden, they "did have a lot to eat."
The rural upbringing both My Wonderful Parents enjoyed -- and make no mistake, despite all the work, they look back on it with fondness -- lives on in them. Despite now living in a much smaller place, they have managed to keep some of those traditions alive. My Dear Papa makes an annual ritual of growing tomatoes wherever he can, even if it's just a few pots out on the patio, and this year he also tried growing herbs, squash, and cucumbers. (Not everything made it, but he did try.)
On top of that, they have both made a more concerted effort to preserve produce for winter, especially since they've gotten so much through our CSA share. They first filled the freezer with early produce such as peas and beans and berries, but as the summer went on, they put up okra pickles, canned tomatoes and peaches, and now applesauce and apple butter. They even decided to stop borrowing my canner and to buy their own (though they still share my chinois as needed). They bought a shelving unit and have steadily filled up shelves with -- pun intended, of course -- the fruits of their labor (as seen from these photos).
Is it any wonder, then, that I do so much food preservation myself? That tradition colored my childhood, too, and I am so grateful for it. I've learned a lot from My Wonderful Parents over the years, and if they are learning a little from me now, getting back to their roots as they see me carrying on the tradition, then that just pleases me to no end.
Though it's obvious that our efforts at food preservation have the main objective of keeping us well fed throughout the year, I think it's no stretch to say that produce isn't the only thing being preserved. We're preserving family traditions, memories, stories, and that wonderful sense of community and togetherness that makes it all worthwhile. We find so much joy in coming to the table together to share good food, so why not also find the joy in coming together to preserve the food that eventually ends up on the table?
Thanks to My Wonderful Parents, I have plenty of that joy in my life.