Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why don't people can food anymore?

The barn in Yamhill, Oregon
I don't like that question. Because the answer is they do. They just don't talk about it. (Except me and the other bloggers canning like fiends, snapping photos and writing away.) And because they don't and instead go for convenience and availability and really, affordability. Canning isn't always the most frugal thing, especially if you don't grow your own food. I wrote about why I'm preserving food at the beginning of this series. But what I'm really enjoying are the conversations with family, friends and neighbors, especially older people, about their memories of canning.
Rudy our neighbor
This is Rudy. He's 95 and lives down the street. AdRi and I are good friends with Rudy, and he tells great stories. He grew up on a farm in Washington, lots of kids. His dad worked the farm with horses, and every summer his mother would can 100 quarts of peaches. And every winter they'd eat all of them. When he told me the number "100" I about fell over. That's a lot of work.

On the other corner lives Hazel. She's lived in her house in this neighborhood for over 50 years. She's how we found out about the farm to pick sweet corn out on Sauvie Island. She still cans her pears, though she can't lift the big water bath pot anymore. She just does single jars on her stovetop, but she still does them every year.

My mom always canned. She said we kids swore we could smell her chili simmering when she was canning, as soon as we crossed the street on our way home from school. My sister remembers mom making her own ketchup, and I remember the hot Southern California days when she'd be canning salsa, tomatoes and sauce. And of course, the peaches. All home grown. My grandmothers canned too. My mom recently told me the story of my grandma, canning green beans when the cooker exploded, sending beans at record speed straight up at the ceiling, ricocheting all over the kitchen. My grandma swore she had a burn on her hand in the shape of a green bean.

Today's Oregonian features a top-knotch obituary, and one I read with a smile. The subhead read, "The matron saint of food storage traveled often and almost always slept outdoors." But my favorite line is a caption with one of the three photos: "One year, Esther put up 165 quarts of apricots, 78 quarts of tomatoes, 12 quarts of peaches, and 30 quarts of grape juice. In a dehydrator, she dried 12 quarts of corn and 5 1/2 pounds of figs." Wow. I don't think I'm quite into it that much, but I can imagine the stories she told.


The cup is half full of something I don't like said...

I always loved the canned foods, especially cherries for some reason. I just can't get my self to do it.

Unknown said...

My mother and both of my grandmothers canned. I have no idea how to do it! But my favorite thing was the grape juice my grandma canned. She'd get out the strainer and pour a big glass for me and I'd want to eat the leftover grapes too. I was so disappointed the first time I ever tasted store bought grape juice-- way too weak.

no said...

Wow-za! That's a lot of canning. I hope to be that productive one day...

Unknown said...

Nooooo! Rudy does not look 95! What a great photo.

Now, I would like to know where you're storing all these labor of love jars. In the basement I hope. How about a pic of the shelves full of your canned produce.
Love, Mom

Desert Diva said...

Once several years ago I picked wild blueberries in Acadia National Park (legal) in Maine. I had rented a room for a month at the YWCA in Bar Harbor and made jam in the kitchen there. It was delicious if I don't say so myself!

Lisa said...

Great post Lelo! Telling these stories about where we have been is so important to understanding where we are. Thanks for documenting the past and making it new again in your posts about canning and preserving.

Jennifer said...

Wow, you have been working so hard and how rewarding to have that hard work this cold winter. Have you ever made kahlua? That would be good in the winter with a cup of coffee and you can store it in the basement.

Anonymous said...

I'm just catching up after hearing the show on the radio yesterday morning.

I love this post.

I love your passion for this and how it seems to touch so many parts of your life.

That obituary is something else. Wouldn't you have loved to know her?

Do you know of a food preservation mailing list (preferably local)? I'd like to connect with other Portland-area food preservers.

This work is so rewarding, don't you think? Sometimes it makes the hairs on my arms stand up in excitement! All of me is engaged.