When I was young, home-canned fruits and vegetables were a mainstay of our diets. I especially loved the jams and jellies, particularly wild strawberry. There was never a problem finding canning supplies in stores. The home-canning supplies seemed to dwindle until the last few years. Now there seems to be a resurgence, and I couldn’t be happier.
Back in 1983, I drove to rural West Virginia to spend the weekend with my future wife and her family. They were into canning even more than I was. The first thing her mother showed me was their cellar, where she kept all the preserved goodies. The place was stacked to the ceiling wall to wall.
The second item was the yearly recording of everything she put up that year. Every year Elloise and the family canned over 300 quarts of green beans and nearly that many quarts of tomato juice. The rest of the place was filled with jelly, vegetable soup, peaches, apple sauce, deer meat chunks, pickles and just about anything else they harvested, wild or domestic.
That’s how most country people made ends meet years ago. They had a garden and they didn’t waste it. My family did much the same, just not on quite the same grandiose scale. My mom preferred to freeze most things and we made a ton of pickles.
It was fun, and we made it a family project. Everyone helped, even my father. We used to experiment with spices, and that was always interesting. I remember making some great garlic dill pickles. The best recipe was less vinegary, but the jars had to be kept cool.
This past summer Roberta and I were busy with conferences and we let a huge gob of cucumbers get overripe right before we were to go on vacation. We took the cucumbers to our off-the-grid camp in northeastern Maine and processed them out in the bush.
Years ago, my mother gave me a recipe for ripe cucumber pickles that is simple and fantastic. We made 24 pints of the prettiest sweet relish imaginable. I couldn’t bring myself to waste those cukes even though we were on vacation. We sterilized our jars over a converted turkey fryer, and every jar sealed.
When I peruse the grocery aisles, I now notice a greater array of jars, lids and other supplies. That tells me more folks are taking advantage of their hidden talents. Home-canned stuff just tastes better.
In fact, there are some commodities I’d rather eat canned than fresh. I love fresh peaches or pears, but I’d much rather eat a jar of canned ones. We can our own apple pie filling and the store-bought stuff just can’t hold a candle to it.
I must admit I still miss my mother-in-law’s green beans. I remember helping them pick and clean a few bushels of beans one day and for dinner, we ate a couple jars of her canned ones, because everyone liked them better. We usually drank her canned tomato juice too, because fresh juice didn’t keep long in the fridge.
The best part about preserving food at home is the satisfaction people can derive from it. Home-made jellies, pickles and such also make great gifts.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.