Our parents grew up during the Great Depression. Later, they experienced the rationing of World War II. Being prepared for lean times was a way of life for them. Though Mom worked next to Dad on the farm, she always managed to raise and pack away plenty of food for winter. Why buy it when you can raise it? Every little bit helps! Mother adhered to both philosophies.
Summer meals included bounteous fresh vegetables from the garden, but when there was extra, we packed it away. I remember Mom’s proud smile as she carried two huge buckets of peas into the kitchen. Sometimes, even Dad and the boys helped split the pods and shell out the tiny green morsels. It seemed to take hours to produce a medium-sized bowl. Fresh peas tasted wonderful on those July days, and it took a lot to feed the crew. Still, Mom always packed a few packages in the freezer.
Weeks later, Mom and her daughters reached under the bean plants in the garden and gently tugged off the long, thin seed pods. Once harvested, all available hands worked to snip ends and cut or snap. In the kitchen sink we covered the cut beans with water. I liked to swish them around and then scoop them up with my hands and deposit them into quart jars via the jar funnel. Mom ladled in boiling water, added a teaspoon of canning salt and screwed on lids and rings. She carefully lowered each full jar into her four-quart pressure canner. A couple hours later, we heard the satisfying “snap” as the lid on each jar sealed.
At the end of the season, Mom left the final picking on the vines to dry. Deloris remembers helping Mom shell beans out of the pods one winter day. Mom simmered the shelled beans for hours in the heavy Dutch oven, then added bacon, onions and a jar of tomatoes and simmered them some more. The beans added a hot, hearty side dish for supper that night and several more meals to follow.
When tomatoes ripened faster than we could eat them, Mom happily got out the giant blue porcelain kettle. We dipped the tomatoes in boiling water, then quickly slipped off the skins and dropped the fruit into jars. After a few canning sessions, the basement shelves gleamed with jars, ready for winter chili, soup and goulash.
Our mother had a talent for making pickles. An aroma distinctive to each vegetable filled the house as cucumbers, carrots, beans and beets were transformed into sweet-and-sour treats to fill the relish tray for Sunday dinners and holidays. I clearly remember her pushing the butcher knife into a huge watermelon. She beamed as it split open with a crack. “There’s a really thick rind on this one. It will be good for pickles!”
When harvest allowed, the men helped dig and carry in potatoes. Good years provided enough to be mashed, riced, fried, or rolled into lefse for the entire winter.
When branches bent heavily with small crabs and spotted red Wealthy apples, we helped Mom make sauce, apple butter and pickles. Later, she sorted the biggest and best to be stored upstairs. One fall night, the family sat around the kitchen table. Black ink stained our hands from the sheets of newspaper as we wrapped each apple and tucked them carefully into boxes. For months the stash stored in an upstairs room provided apple salad and Sunday pies.
One year Mom bought seed for Indian corn. Her blue eyes sparkled as she pulled back the crisp tan husks and arranged the colored ears into our Thanksgiving centerpiece.
It was a way of life we learned from our parents. They had lived through hard times, so they knew the importance of raising and packing away food. This explains why we worked to plant, harvest and store everything we could. But what would explain the smile on our mother’s face as she worked?
I think she realized how blessed she was for what she had.
Kruempel’s newest book release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and receive free stories, recipes, photos and updates
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