Friday, December 30, 2011

A Princess Cans

For two years now, I have had a haunting, gnawing feeling that I should learn how to preserve food.  Food preservation, or "canning" is also called "putting up" by country people and old timers.  Canning was a subject that had not entered my world for over forty years and then out of nowhere presented itself to me at every turn.  "I don't have time for this", I said.  "CAN" said the voice inside my gut.   I have heard that there is a canning movement in America.  It seems that many of my middle-aged peers have heard the same voice.  I am left to wonder if the good Lord above is trying to tell us something.  Most certainly we are living in interesting times, and there is a small chance that in my lifetime the grocery stores that we all take for granted will one day cease to exist.  TEOTWAKI, or, The End Of The World As We Know It, is a worthy topic for deeper discussion on another day.

I assure you that canning is NOT in my genes.  I once asked my Mom's mother, Grandma Frieda, if she had ever canned.  She told me that she had only tried it once, and that her canner exploded and left glass and tomatoes forever stuck up in the plaster ceiling.  Well now, doesn't that sound like fun? Grandma Frieda was not a domestic goddess, but she was indeed the sweetest person I ever knew. The only thing I saw my Mom preserve was strawberry jam, and even then she merely covered the jam with parafin wax - there was no "hot water bath" to seal the jar lids. Then suddenly, I found myself surrounded by women who have been canning all their lives.  My friend Delnice provides my biggest inspiration, and she is always happy to take a call from me with a canning question.  Delnice puts up a lot of food for herself and her small family.  She buys produce from local farmers, grows some of her own food, and then prepares it and puts it into jars at the exact right time.  Delnice doesn't do "small" either.  If Delnice is going to can, by gosh she is going to do it up right.  I'm talking 73 quart jars (those are the big ones) of green beans in one weekend.  Delnice exclaimed to me one day when she stopped by to see my work, " got the BUG!"  Apparently there is a canning bug out there that will get you!  Aunt Brenda is another significant influence in my canning career, as she is the one who got me started.  Brenda called me up one day and said, "Okay princess, if you want to learn how to put up tomatoes, then come on over and help me today."  Over I went, and she taught me everything she knew about canning tomatoes.  The whole process was fascinating, and from that moment on I was hooked.

I started canning late in the summer as a final act of self defense against the endless 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes delivered by my Father in Law, "Big T".  Big T lives alone, but grows enough food every year to feed a village.  He is a talented gardener and a generous man who loves to share his hard work with others.  For many years we have tried to use up the "groceries" that he brings by eating them right away.  This effort tackles about 1/10th of the bounty - we would chop up the remaining 9/10ths and put them into freezer bags for later use.  I have completely lost my freezer space to an endless army of little bags stuffed with reds, greens, and yellows.  The dates on those bags go all the way back to 2006.  I just can't seem to use them all up before I get new ones, and after awhile, the stuff inside starts to taste like freezer burn.  I hate to throw away food, and this fact was probably the final straw that broke me into canning submission.  I mustered up some courage, got out my big pots, canning utensils, jars, lids, and salt, donned my apron, and began to attack the mountain of tomatoes with the skills I had learned at Aunt B's house.  SUCCESS!   I was now the proud owner of eight quart jars of scarlet beauties, and I loved them all like they were my children.

Hot water bath method tackled, I decided to take on the ever-feared pressure canner.  Aw yes, the evil brooding device that haunted me in my dreams, with its rocking pressure gauge and steam spouting lid!  I bought a PRESTO brand pressure canner, looked up whistfully at my pristine ceiling as if to say, "kiss your ass goodbye" and got to work.  For two months, my weekends were spent standing in the kitchen on aching legs chopping, stringing, peeling, boiling, and sealing.  I walked away with a small cache of green beans, soup beans, apple sauce, jellies, jams, and red wine picked beets.  Ain't they puuuuurty??

I learned some very valuable lessons along the way, and each batch provided me with wisdom that could only be gained by doing.  I will share my knowledge with you next time.  For now, I will sit back feeling victorious, yet longing for warmer days ahead when I can get my Southern hands on some fresh veggies to call my own.


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  2. Ha! They's real real purty an' I'se jealous--yep, really jealous. I wish't I could do this.

    IN Florida we's got year round growin' so the U-PICK-'EM farms is a fantastic source fer local produce.

    Issues of TEOTWAWKI aside, the yucky stuff in plastic makes me wary of livin' by the freezer--which we does on account of Uncle bein' a hunter--we eat a lot of venison. Glass is supposed to be healthier.

    I really admire ya', Scout.

  3. Thank you Aunty! I loves me some venison - mr. Scout hasn't gotten a deer in a few years now and we've gone through what we had frozen. If we lived next door to each other we could swap some!

  4. Oh, so pretty! You give me hope, as I have always stayed away from this particular task as well. Visions of botulism floating in my head and all that . . .

  5. Moi - I'm glad I have given you some hope! I too worried about the botulism issue prior to starting. There was a news story back in the '70's when I was a kid about a girl who died from it eating tomatoes from a dented can. The old timers say as long as the seal is on that bad boy you are good!