My first experience with growing food for myself took place as we lived beside my husband's parents. My father-in-law was big on gardening. He plowed the land then planted the garden with help from my mother-in-law and me. Of course, I was the butt of a few jokes, but that is beside the point. I learned a great deal from my in-laws.
Just to set the record straight, let me tell you that I liked the things that grew in the garden a whole lot better than my father-in-law. He loved planting and tending, but he did not like many of the vegetables when they were harvested.
That first year we had a bumper crop of green beans. We ate what we could, but there were many more that needed to be taken care of. I purchased a canning manual put out by the Ball Co. Most of you will realize they are the company that manufactures canning jars and lids.
If you can green beans without the aid of a pressure canner it takes a long time. It is not recommended by the book, but that was the only method that was available to us at the time. I washed beans, then, cut them up to go into the jars. I did everything by the book with a little bit of instruction from my mother-in-law. That canning book was my recreational reading during that first canning season.
Well, the beans went into the jars just fine. I completed the canning process and listened for the distinctive pops of the lids to be sure they sealed. I lived in a mobile home at the time so I had to store my finished jars in my in-law's basement.
One day during the winter I went down cellar to quite a mess. The beans had popped their lids liberally dispersing them on the cellar floor. Not only did I have a mess to clean up, I lost most of the beans that I had so carefully preserved.
The next year we again had many green beans. This time I preserved some of them as dilly beans. If you are not familiar with dilly beans you are missing a treat. They are pickled beans preserved with vinegar and dill weed. They are delicious. Since they are pickled the canning process is much simpler.
My mother-in-law and I both invested in pressure canners. We were not about to have a season like the last one.
That first year we also picked strawberries. I made some of my berries into freezer jam. I love the freezer jam because the berries still taste fresh after they have been frozen. I also just put some strawberries into the freezer to eat on waffles or as shortcake later on.
Of course, I did not have a freezer in my trailer except the one on the top of the refrigerator. Once again my mother-in-law helped me out. She gave me one section of her very large deep-freezing unit. That was a God send because it allowed me to purchase many things so that I did not have to shop every week.
When the corn on the cob was ready, I froze that. I rigged up a pan where my ear of corn was balanced on top, and the kernels fell into the pan around it. Frozen corn is very good as long as you do it right. While the corn was ripe we ate a lot of fresh corn with our meals. I remember having to take the cob away from the children because they chewed off all of the kernels and were starting on the cob.
Corn relish is another favorite of mine. I found an excellent recipe in my canning book. Each year I took time to cook corn relish.
My favorite things to can are pickles. I think what I like best is the smell in the kitchen during the preparation. I remember that company came one evening as I cooked a kettle of mustard pickles. The company was curious as to what they smelled. I showed them the huge kettle of seasoned vegetables that were simmering on the stove.
When tomatoes were ripe we had many of them to can. Each morning we went to the garden to harvest what was ripe. The tomato skins had to be peeled. A large kettle of near boiling water helped the skins split allowing them to slip off easily. I cold packed tomatoes and canned them in a water bath. The big thing was to be sure the jars were not too full and that the rim did not have any tomato seeds underneath.
I canned mostly plain tomatoes, but I also made something called Shirley sauce that was great with our venison in the fall. Shirley sauce is slightly hot, but I would call it mild. It was great on beef, too.
If there were a lot of vegetables ready to can I often made my own vegetable juice similar to the commercial type found in the aisles of the grocery store. At least I knew that mine did not have any preservatives. It canned very well.
After I moved to Hickory Heights I bought a dehydrator. It was nothing fancy, but it worked. I set it up in the pantry so that I did not have to move it. One year I even entered dried vegetables in the fair. After the fair my jar of vegetables became a flavorful batch of soup.
Home preservation is an art form. It takes a lot of work and a lot of practice, but it is certainly worth the effort.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.