Around the Kitchen Table: The art of canning & preserving

Share to:


Thanks to social media and the growing popularity of self-sufficiency, canning and preserving is enjoying a renewal of interest. To me this is amusing because we’ve always been fans of this sort of activity.

For over 50 years, Mom was an ambitious preserver of all things grown on our farm (and often the overflow of the neighbor’s bounty too). Dad may not have participated in the process back then, but he more than made up for it by his enthusiastic consumption of Mom’s long days in a hot kitchen.

At every meal during late summer, autumn and most of winter, we enjoyed Granny’s recipe for dill pickles, fresh pintos and snaps that tasted like spring, purple hull peas, corn that was like eating candy and jar after jar of blackberry, peach and fig jam along with one of Dad’s favorites – pear preserves.

On the days Mama would can, we would throw open every window in the house. With a box fan as our only “air conditioning,” things heated up pretty quickly in that knotty pine kitchen. When she made Granny’s pickles, we would spend the early morning hours gathering cucumbers from Mama’s carefully tended vines, making sure we didn’t miss any of the “right-size” cukes. Being kids, we always overlooked a few and by the next day, they had reached gargantuan size and were only good for slicing on salads or snacking.

We were also assigned to “squash bug duty,” which to Mom was serious business. Just one of those horrible bugs would kill an entire plant overnight, so letting one escape resulted in one of Mom’s “looks” and a sad shake of her head, something none of us wanted to evoke.

After laboriously scrubbing and washing the prickly sandy vegetables, Mama would set about scalding and prepping her jars and lids. Everything had to be super clean so the pickles wouldn’t spoil. Mom watched us like a hawk. If we touched a jar rim we had to wash it in hot water and dry it carefully, so we usually managed to avoid that crime. After the jars were ready and the lids on to simmer, she measured the spices and garlic into the jars. Then Mom set about filling them with the bright green cucumbers from our morning harvest. She was an expert at selecting just the right cuke to go in the jar next.

Mama surrounded by her latest batch of peach jam. She was always so pleased to have the pantry full of good things for the coming winter.

I remember her turning the shiny jars, carefully inspecting the open spaces and making sure they were filled, but not too tightly. Mama had the gift of spatial awareness because she rarely had to take a cucumber out because it didn’t fit – of course, she’d had a lot of practice.

One of my most vivid memories is watching Mama fill those colorful jars with the boiling vinegar from the stove – spirals of steam filling the kitchen with that unmistakable sharp smell of apple cider vinegar. Other times, I remember the kitchen would fill with the sweet sugary fragrances of fresh fruit and the table would be covered with jars and jars of jams and jellies.

The last 13 years of Mom’s life, she was hampered by health problems and could no longer tolerate the standing and physical activity it takes to can, so Dad and my older sisters stepped into that role. Even though Dad was over 90 at that time, he never shied away from a challenge. He learned to make some of his favorite things like peach jam and fig and pear preserves.

My sisters would patiently walk him through the steps of making each batch. Dad was a good student; I don’t think he had any failures. I opened the last jar of peach jam he helped make just yesterday. I didn’t want to wait too long, but it was hard to let go of that last jar. It felt like he was slipping further away. But I knew he wouldn’t want me to waste good food.

Last week, I took my grandchildren to pick peaches at a local orchard. Hopefully, they will learn to appreciate the effort it takes to grow, harvest and preserve like the generations before them.

Now that Mom and Dad are both gone, those memories of summer routines are even more precious. Sometimes, if I close my eyes on a warm summer day, I can almost smell those familiar aromas floating on the soft breeze and see Mama in her little kitchen surrounded by a sea of jars.

Welcome back, summertime. You were missed.

by Tamra M. Bolton

Recent Posts:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *