Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fall Canning

Tucked in a far corner of the basement is a little room lined on opposite sides with shelves reaching to the ceiling.  On the shelves sat rows of jars, some full, some empty, some quarts and pints, some smaller with jellies and jams, some larger with pickles.  In our farmhouse there was an additional root cellar dug  out beyond the regular basement which was cool, dark and had a dirt floor.  Against one wall a crib held the potatoes for the year.  In another corner was a box of carrots covered with straw.

Root cellars were standard equipment in early North Dakota homes, and fall was the season for canning.  Actually everything revolved around winter; spring, summer and fall were for planting, growing, gathering and preserving food for the winter.  Most of the food was grown in family gardens but some foods that didn't grow locally were ordered and purchased in large boxes from the local grocer.  Fruits like peaches, pears and plums were examples.

Now we are 1500 miles from North Dakota and a half century later but still canning food for the winter.  We picked the peaches from a local farm; the pears and apples from our trees; beans from the local fruit stand and tomatoes from the garden.  Most garden products typically are blanched and frozen these days and spices and herbs are dried for storage.

Water boils on the stove.  Peaches or tomatoes are heated so that they peel easily and then sliced into wedges.  The jars are washed in hot soapy water, rinsed and filled with the wedges which were waiting in a bath of cool water.  Rims are wiped clean for a good seal, boiling water, maybe with a little bit of sugar is poured to fill the jar.  A new cover is dipped in boiling water and secured on the jars with bands.  These then bathe in boiling water for 15 minutes after which they rest and cool down before they are labeled and join the rows of jars in the root cellar.

This may be a far cry from what happens in most contemporary homes and a poor facsimile of what happened more than a half century ago, but it is here.  It's a connection to the past, a family event and way of securing good food with no preservatives.  It's part of who we are and what we consider valuable.  Good eating.

Did I mention the sightings of mice and the evidence that mice were in the root cellar tucked away in the corner?

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