Back in the 70's I was a stay at home Mom. We had three kids...two of them had graduated and we had one left at home. We had just moved to a little country town called Hampshire. My friends were all working away from the home and once in a while we would get to talking about the value of staying at home with our kids. I always said that Moms spent so much money to work....childcare, transportation, clothing, lunches, and all the other things that go with working outside the home. I contended that I could stay at home and have, maybe, a little less money, but I could find ways to save money and still be at home with my child.
The first summer at home, I started something that would continue for a long time. It became a passion for me. Preserving food...food that would last all winter. I had all the necessary ingredients...a neighbor with a surplus of produce, canning equipment, a freezer, a place in the basement for storage, and most of all....time.Late winter would be the time that I would be going through my favorite canning and freezing books. I could read them like novels. They were used so much...that the pages started falling out. I envisioned a blizzard and my family feasting on what I had "put up" that summer. Our neighbors had a huge garden and he would bring me 5 gal. buckets of leftovers from his garden. I planted rhubarb, tomatoes, and other veggies in my small garden. His wife and I became good friends and would share recipes and tastes of things that we were canning. Early spring would find me making freezer jam. Rhubarb, pineapple, and strawberry jello made wonderful jam. My family really enjoyed this for breakfast toast. Then came pickles. I canned every kind of pickle you could think of. Even dilly beans.
I had pickles in crocks, jars and in huge bowls on my kitchen counter in all stages of pickling. I would try a new recipe and rush a jar over to my neighbor to try. She did the same. What fun we had.We tried all kinds of new things....some good and a few that we wouldn't make again.
When tomatoes came in season, we were swamped. They grew about 50 tomato plants I had my 9 plants. We canned tomatoes of every variety.Early morning would find me doing my canning...before it got hot. After having what I thought would last us through the winter, I would make my favorite...chili sauce. I think it would be the hottest day of the summer, when chili sauce was on my stove. It needed to be cooked down, from a very watery mixture to a thick sauce...My neighbor learned how to make this from me. We didn't have air conditioning at that time, and our screens would be covered with flies...just wanting to get in...the smell probably drove them crazy. Oh, I can taste it now...I loved it. My Mom always made this...even when she and Dad had retired and lived in the apartment. As they grew older, I took on the job of making it and sharing it with them.My sister-in-law started making it too.This is a family favorite. I buy it now..It's not nearly as good as home made. Heinz makes a pretty good one and then my favorite little jar of Homade Chili Sauce.
.Jan and I used to sit in her driveway early in the year and shell peas and tip and tail green beans. Her husband brought me "bouquets of Easter Egg radishes. Potatoes dug fresh out of the garden were a special treat. Our meals were always tasty during the summers. OH....I forgot zucchini....jams, breads, just sauteed in butter, then jams, breads again and again. We had an over abundance of zucchini. When neighbors saw her husband coming during zucchini season with a big zucchini under his arm...they would think up any excuse to not take it. Everyone was sick of zucchini in the summer.
I love beets...small beets. He would bring me bowling ball sized beets at the end of the growing season. I would cut away the woodiness and pickle them. They were still good. A jar of pickled beets in the winter...is Heaven to me.
We made a relish called chow chow. Chopped cabbage was the main ingredient in this sort of sweet relish...along with many other veggies. My mother-in-law was the one who taught me to make this. I was the only one who liked it at our house...so a jar would last me quite a while
How could I forget sauerkraut? One year I filled a huge crock with cabbage and made sauerkraut. It kind of smelled funny for a little while, but the scent disappeared as time went on. Scooping the top of the crock was a daily job. It was the best sauerkraut that my husband had ever had. .
I loved the look of jars on my counter. Such an accomplishment. I was reading a cookbook that showed pictures of shelving in the basement and how you could decorate the shelves with things that would need storing and would be decorative at the same time. I hung garlic ropes on my wooden shelves and pretty shelf paper. The jars would line up as they were canned. Sometimes I would just go down and look at these pretty things. It gave me such a feeling of satisfaction and safety. If we had a bad winter...lots of snow....a blizzard perhaps...I could bring up a jar of pickles or tomatoes and we would have a taste of summer on the coldest day.
Later, we would find apples along the road and pick them for applesauce and I have always gathered pinecones for wreaths and decorating...and grapevines to fill a truck.Wild flowers along the road for my craft sales, became an annual hunt. I forgot....nuts and bittersweet oh so many things.. I guess I will always be a gatherer.
I still feel the need to gather in the fall. I like a full freezer and pantry. I don't do the work anymore, but when fall comes I get the urge to get out the canner and start canning.