Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Gift of Canning

Ok, the picture has nothing to do with canning. So the next best
thing is a picture of little Sadie, my 1 year old granddaughter. So, on to canning.

When I was a young girl we would go visit my Grandma Marshall for a week and we would can beans. White half runners to be exact. They had strings. So first we would pick and then string and then break the beans.
It would be August and hot as it is here in August and no air conditioning. Get the picture. This may seem unbelievable to some of you but my Grandmother didn’t have running water or a bathroom. She had a cistern. ( and an outhouse) and great big wash tubs. My job was to go to the smoke house (a small barn like building where they would hang country hams to cure. The scent was nice.) The jars were so dirty, I mean they have been in the smokehouse for almost a year. Grandma placed the giant wash tubs on the porch floor. I was just the right height to wash them while standing on the ground. Grandma would bring boiling water and soap and fill the tub around the jars. I would have to wait until I could stand to touch the water. When they were clean I would put them in another big washtub and Grandma would come out the screen door , I can still here it smack as it had a spring on it. She would pour boiling water in the rinse tub I would move them around until they were all scalded and then lift them out onto a tray. Meanwhile Mom and Grandma are cooking the beans and filling the scalded jars and putting them in the water bath canner. This method is not considered safe today. We practically lived on green beans and cornbread all winter. They always tasted good but I never want to see another white half runner.

Forward 45 years and I have just learned a new love of canning. Maybe I should say first love of canning. One thing my Grandma made that I never helped with but enjoyed the fruits of her labor, was pear preserves.
I have looked for pear preserves in shops for years and they are always anemic looking. Grandma’s were an amber color and the pears were sliced thin and the liquid around the pears was so yummy. Now I know Grandma didn’t use lemon juice and I don’t think there was fruit fresh back then, so the pears turned darker from the air. Sounds gross I guess but they were delicious. Last year I got some pears from a lady my husband works with and I found a recipe on line and tried it and they were just like Grandma’s!!!! I was so happy. My friend Jill is a pro at canning and she walked me through getting the pears done. This year I ask for a canner for Mother’s Day and I have really enjoyed getting into canning. First I did bread and butter pickles. I bought the little cucumbers at the farmer’s market early this spring. They turned out nice.
Then Jill took me blackberry picking on her farm. The heat was the same as when I was a child and the stickers on the briars got me but in an hour and a half I had one gallon. The next day I started with seedless blackberry jam.
It was very messy and I wouldn’t try this for your first experience. If I hadn’t done the pear preserves and pickles I would have quit right there.
All that work and 4 cups of berries netted me 2 half pints of jam. The good things was there was a lot of pulp and seeds left. Jill told me to boil it on the stove with water and add some sugar then strain and I would have blackberry-aide. I added a little too much sugar but it was a beautiful color and delicious. With the rest of the blackberries I made preserves. While they were processing I made biscuits. My Grandpa ate biscuits and preserves after every meal for dessert. My biscuits are small just like Grandmas.

So after those success stories I’ve done dill pickles, salsa, and pear preserves with my friend Johanna. By far the most wonderful canning I’ve done was 21 quarts of tomato juice. If you have never had homemade tomato juice, you have missed out. First of all I think it is a crime to use homemade tomato juice in soup. I mean, the bought stuff is fine for that. Drinking homemade tomato juice is like drinking a bowl of fresh homegrown tomatoes. There is just nothing better. I wouldn’t start out canning tomato juice either. Start with something easy like bread and butter pickles or preserves. To can juice you first clean the tomatoes, core, quarter and place in a large pot and heat until soft. Then you turn them through a food mill. Messy, and your neck will be sore from turning the food mill, and then you heat all the juice to 190 degrees and don’t boil. Cook for 5 minutes. I run the jars through the dishwasher. They are hot and ready to go. How easy is that. Then fill the jars, add lemon juice and salt. Lemon juice is added because tomatoes today are not as acidic as they were years ago. Then place in a water bath and process. Warning! It will be hard to give these away. If someone gives you something they have canned, they really like you a lot. Jill has applesauce canning day and I've enjoyed the fruit of that labor. My friend Annette, gave me applesauce, canned peaches, pear jam and spiced peach preserves. Yummy.

It is wonderful to have home canned items in the winter to enjoy. It makes you think about spring and summer and all the wonderful items you will can.

As for green beans, I know there stringless beans today, but I will never can green beans. I had my fill. I have learned that you can buy a giant can of green bean for less than $4.00 and I can make them taste like country green beans any day of the week. I do hope to broaden my horizons in canning. I’m scared of the pressure canner so Jill is going to help me overcome that. Jill does chicken soup and in the winter when someone is sick she can just open a jar of her homemade soup. Sometimes when I make soup it is really good but after a few days I’m sick of it. Now when I make a good batch I can have it for a meal and can the rest. I’m looking forward to that.

My Grandmother had to can to have enough food to eat over the winter. She worked very hard on the farm and finally got a bathroom and running water when she was in her 70’s. Her name was Sara and my first born is named after her. She had lots of old sayings and I’ll leave you with one. “ I’m so full you could crack a tick on my belly.”

Maybe having Sadie’s picture is perfect. She is Sara’s great, great Granddaughter. I'm told Sadie is the Jewish name for Sara.

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