Please welcome guest blogger Barbara Fisher, author of food blog Tigers and Strawberries. Says Fisher of her blog: ‘On the farm, I gathered eggs and learned how to dress out hogs, steer and chickens and how to harvest and preserve the fruits of summer. With a childhood like that, it’s no wonder I became obsessed with food.’
“I grew up helping my grandmother plant, tend, harvest and preserve the produce from her two very large garden plots. She and my grandfather had a farm in Putnam County, West Virginia, and between the two of them, they raised enough food to keep most of our large family in food.
“Preserving the harvest of the farm took many forms, from freezing, fermenting, drying, pickling and root cellaring, but the one process we spent the most time on was canning.
“Each year, we canned hundreds of jars of fruit, jellies, jams, tomatoes, sauces, beans, relishes, pickles and kraut. The time and effort it took to accomplish this gargantuan task was phenomenal; but even as we spent hours blanching, boiling, sterilizing, packing jars and processing them, Grandma told me it was much easier using the new lids than the old glass lids with the rubber gaskets. She’d saved a few of these relics from her early days, and I could see she was right—while the new metal lids could be used only once (though the rings we used over and over), they were more reliable than the rubber gaskets, forming a durable seal with few failures.
“Grandma was quick to adopt new technologies as they became available. She had a pressure canner, and used it for the low-acid vegetables she didn’t freeze, such as green beans and beets. She wouldn’t let me near that hissing behemoth–which was fine with me—it looked like a menacing contraption from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and its ominous sputtering intimidated me.
“When we used the hot water bath canners, however, I got to help with nearly every aspect of the process. I strained fruit juices for jellies, cooked down applesauce, and stuffed cukes into jars with umbrels of dill flowers and cloves of garlic. Then it was my job to screw on the lid rings, while Grandma popped filled jars into the canner. I was also the official seal tester—after several hours of listening to the distinctive ping-pop of the lids sealing, I’d go down the rows of gleaming jars and poke at the lids. Any that moved up and down, I’d mark with a grease pencil for us to watch carefully. If they didn’t seal after 24 hours, the lid was popped off and the food cooked; we either ate it then, re-canned it or I carried it out with the hog slop.
“Now, I find myself canning the summer and autumn harvests of Athens County, Ohio, to store for the winter. Since I don’t have a garden, I buy boxes of vegetables and fruits from local farmers and make my own preserves, jellies, salsas, sauces, pickles, and tomato products. While times have changed a lot in the past thirty years, I have to say that the main difference in my experiences canning then and now are that the foods I choose to can are different.
“Grandma never heard of salsa, but as I stir a concoction thick with tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, garlic and chipotle chilies, I cannot help but think she would have liked it. She’d never laid eye on tomatillos, but after tasting them, would have made a jam from them. My predilection for kimchi would have amused her; to her mind, it would be nothing more than “kraut with a kick.”
“The other big difference is the fact that today’s tomatoes are not as acidic as the ones we processed in the 1970’s hot water bath canners. Today, you either use a pressure canner to can tomato products, or you must acidify them before putting them in the hot water bath.
“Other than that, canning now is as it was thirty years ago or so. It is still a lot of work, which cannot be valued monetarily, but which can only be measured in the love of family, tradition, the land, and fresh, truly good, food.”
related post: “Mountain Heritage Day Festival”