I was talking with my mother the other day about how much I wanted to get some vegetables and/or fruit and do some canning this summer. Or maybe even make jelly or pickles.
I know it sounds crazy to want to spend hours in a hot kitchen putting up food the “old fashioned” way when I can just pop on down to my local Publix and find most everything I can ever wish for at any time of the year.
But, for me, it’s not just about the food preservation. It’s about preserving traditions and reliving the memories of my childhood.
I remember spending the night at my grandmother’s house and waking in the steamy early morning to drive to pick up bushels of fresh corn, peaches, or whatever. We’d go home and wash and clean the produce and then start the canning process. I remember one summer I shucked so many ears of corn I was sure there was no more corn left in the state that hadn’t passed through my hands.
I also remember making pickles. That was something my mom, grandma and I would do. The kitchen would be so hot – Grandma didn’t have air conditioning – and we’d be working over that hot, steamy canning pot. I loved to watch the jars as they were boiling in the pot. And I loved to add the spices to the cucumber brine and smell the pungent aroma as everything came together.
Then came the ladling of the pickles into the jars. It was my job to clean the tops of the jars and add the rings and tops. I loved flirting with danger as I gently dropped the lids onto the hot jars.
Another one of my favorite jobs was when we made jelly. We usually made grape jelly because my grandfather had scuppernongs growing in the garden. I loved walking under the vines, looking for just the perfect, plump, juicy grape and popping it into my mouth. We made jelly with the grapes, and wine, too. I’m not sure which process I liked the best.
I wasn’t as involved in the jelly making process, simply because the hot jelly is somewhat akin to molten lava. I think Mom and Grandma were worried I’d get burned. But I did love melting the wax that we’d pour over the hot jelly to seal the jars. Once it started to cool and get opaque, I’d sneak into the kitchen and stick my fingers into the wax, marking them with my own personal seal, I thought.
My grandparents had a “pump room” on the back of their house. It housed their water heater and shelves upon shelves of canned vegetables, fruits, etc. I loved to walk in there with Grandma. It smelled musty and was always cool, but it was like walking into a cave of treasures. I would look at the jars lined up neatly on the shelves and remember the previous summer when I’d helped to put the vegetables up for the year. I can still smell the musty dampness even today.
I wish my grandma was still here today to help me teach my girls the almost-lost art of canning. Those are memories I will cherish forever, in spite of the heat, the burns, and the messes we had to clean. I loved those hours I spent in the kitchen with Grandma.