Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lessons from the Depression Generation, part 2

I have been thinking about Grandma W. as I have been busily canning this summer. Grandma B. canned, too, but she passed away when I was only 6, so it is Grandma W. I remember canning. Grandma and Grandpa always grew a garden. It probably wasn't very big, but what they didn't eat, she canned, even if it was just a small amount. I remember the time I was there, and she showed me how the neighbor's apricot tree had a branch that hung over her yard. She taught me that that entitled her to pick that branch of apricots, which she did and made apricot pineapple jam with. I think my favorite thing that she canned was chokecherry jam, probably because I had never had it anywhere else. One year I went with her to pick chokecherries. It probably wasn't terribly far away, but it seemed far to me at the time. There were a number of chokecherry bushes in the middle of someone's lawn, which we picked. I remember her putting the cooked berries in a cone strainer to separate the flesh from the seeds. But more than anything, I remember the sweet-tart flavor of the jam--Heaven!

I always remember my Dad growing a garden. When I was very little, we had fruit trees and a large vegetable garden. I used to go out and watch him irrigate the garden, thinking how much work it was. Mom canned when she had to, but she never did like it. Dad told a story, though, about how her canning saved us. He was getting his doctorate, and money was very tight. Just before he graduated, he discovered there was a fee he hadn't known about, which took their food money to pay. He called Grandma B. and asked to borrow $20, which she willingly sent him, but it would take several days for it to arrive. Meanwhile, the only food in the house was, 1. a box of pie crust mix, and 2. some home-bottled green beans. Until Grandma's $20 arrived, we lived on green beans served with a gravy made from the pie crust mix. (As a side note, Dad also later found some money he had squirreled away in a drawer. I have also learned to have little pots of money squirreled away, usually saving them for some special purchase I have in mind. Hmm. . . wonder where I get that from?) Years later when we moved to Illinois, Dad planted a garden in the back yard. He was always rather disgruntled about how many trees the neighbors had, shading his garden. He was so excited when my husband and I bought our first house, with a large yard perfect for a large garden.

Canning must be in my blood, because when I was a teenager, I told my parents I wanted to learn how to can. Now, Mom no longer canned at this point, although she still had all the equipment. My parents liked to encourage me when I wanted to learn different skills, and this was a skill they wanted to encourage. So Dad went down to his favorite produce place, and ordered a box of peaches. To be shipped from Georgia. At the per pound price that peaches were going for, I am sure. Our area of Illinois was not known for being able to get bushels of fruit for canning, but Dad didn't care. When the peaches came in, Dad presented me with the peaches, the canner, jars, and lids, and the Ball Blue Book, and let me loose. (Brave man!) I read the instructions, and canned peaches and peach jam. I have been hooked ever since, but fortunately now I live in Utah where I can either grow what I can, or purchase bushel quantities for canning. I usually grow my own fruit. It is more work, but it is also a lot cheaper. My little 5-year old fruit trees at my new house gave me a bushel of peaches and a bushel of pears this year. (My apples all froze due to a late snowstorm while the apple tree was in full blossom.) I also got peaches and pears from the trees at my son's house, since he only eats some of the fresh fruit. Thus, I have been canning, and canning, and canning. And thinking about Grandma W., and the lessons she taught me. And how good my Dad was to encourage me to learn a skill that has lasted my whole life. And so I garden, and can, and not only feed my family, but carry on a family heritage in the process.

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