The women in my family usually canned together as a group and divided up the finished product, making a truly monumental task almost a party with laughter and stories shared along with the back-breaking labor in the sweltering southern summer heat. When my grandmother, my Nanny Sensing was alive, we sat in wooden, slat-bottomed chairs, or on the ground under the apple tree in her back yard where it was cool and shady to string and break green beans. In those days being too little to work the giant pressure canner or fill the hot jars with hot vegetables or fruit was a blessing. When the older ladies had to go inside the hot house made hotter by the stove being on all day with food blanching or the canner heating or the water boiling the Mason jars and lids, I got to say outside under the apple tree, playing with the babies and toddlers on one of Nanny's big patchwork quilts, keeping them from underfoot of the busy women inside.
One of my most vivid memories of my sweet Nanny is of her, sweat running down her face, cutting corn off the cob to fill container after container of creamed corn to fill her new chest freezer. She would be covered in corn splatters from the glasses perched on the end of her nose to her apron protecting the house dress she wore. But at the end of the day, she was so proud of being able to put creamed corn in the freezer rather than canning it. I learned from her that corn was a long canning process and she was glad to have a freezer to put it in, saving canning for things like green beans and tomatoes.
Later on, I helped my Mama can, my little sister being the one to play with the smaller cousins. Mama, my aunts and I would sit around the kitchen table, preparing whatever vegetables Daddy or my uncles may have grown or bought at the farmer's market, talking and laughing, and working hard to "put up" for the winter and at the end of a hot, back-breaking day, there was no more satisfying sound than the "ping" of a sealed jar, no more satisfying sight than row upon row of jars filled with peaches, or green beans, or tomatoes.
The years passed and one by one we all fell prey to progress, the women's liberation movement, and the life of "working women." We tried to stay true to the age-old homemaking skills, rushing home from work in the evenings to can a "run" of green beans or tomatoes or spending Saturdays in the summer putting things up. But we generally worked alone, and "many hands making light work" slipped away. We began to only can vegetables we felt were way better home canned rather than "store bought." Eventually, we made a few batches of jam or jelly, freezing as much produce as we could instead of canning it. And little by little I, personally stopped canning and chose to eat the inferior quality but more convenient store bought canned foods. But the memories of long, hot days laughing, talking and working with the women of my family lingered. I miss those days.
I recently read a book that jolted me back to the realization that true homemaking skills are dying and we as a society are not passing these skills on to our children and grandchildren. The book, One Second After, has nothing to do with canning or food preservation, but is about an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that hits the United States, throwing our country back to life without electricity, transportation, or communication in an instant... and how the general population reacts and struggles to survive being suddenly transported to a world like it was in the 1800s. This book made me stop and think long and hard about remembering and cherishing the skills possessed by my ancestors... the ability to survive without the comforts and conveniences our generation has become so accustomed to. I want to keep those simple homemaking skills alive and to pass them on to the younger generations. I may never lose my comforts and conveniences but I want to know that should I need to, I would know how to survive and even thrive in a world without the luxuries I have grown to depend on. And I have found on my journey to "self-sufficiency" that I truly enjoy the skills I am now honing, and I am finding that quality is indeed better than convenience.
And there's still no more satisfying sound than the "ping" of a successfully sealed jar.
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