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Canning was a favorite family pastime

By Staff | Oct 2, 2009

We raised a large garden in Underwood, and our yard included a strawberry patch and raspberry bushes. My Dad was excellent at growing just about anything, but he took great pride in his apple and plum trees.

Needless to say, my mom had plenty of opportunities to do home canning. She was at ease around canning and often invited us five boys to help her. One fall, we managed to can 700 jars. It was a beautiful sight to open the fruit room door and view jars with garnets of every color. My favorites then, and still to this day, are home-canned green beans, cherries and pears.

Scrubbing the shelves of our fruit room was a fall ritual. Our home had a wide set of stairs leading to the upstairs, and it was beneath these steps that our fruit room was located. The room had been fitted with shelves made from recycled fruit crates. These cavernous beauties were capable of housing between 12 and 18 quart jars per shelf. They had been painted white by my mother, and each fall they received a good bath of Perfex water-complete with a hot water rinse. Once the shelves were spotless, they were treated to new fall attire of patterned shelf paper. Our shelf paper was usually adorned with decorative little flowers or fruit on the ruffed edge that draped over the face of the shelf. Upon completion, our fruit room shelves looked very attractive and ready for boarders.

I can recall one fall evening when my older brother, Oliver, decided to throw caution to the wind and began to think of ways to get out of shelf cleaning. Naturally, we were working with a lot of empty glass jars and it was rather easy to bump a jar off the shelf. Somehow boys like the sound of breaking glass. Is it any wonder countless lads shoot bottles with BB guns? It was not long and Oliver had managed to carefully slide a jar to the very edge of the shelf and then gingerly bumped if off. It crashed to the floor and glass went everywhere. Before we knew it, Oliver was claiming to have been cut. He ran into the kitchen where he had already laid his plans of deception.

First of all, I must tell you that Oliver can be a wonderful actor. For years, mom has thought he would be right at home on the Hollywood screen. He maneuvered some of the wildest imitations-complete with actions-that could have one on the floor rolling in laughter.

His boyish charm of red hair and freckles appeared in the doorway of our utility room where he claimed to be badly cut. We all exited the fruit room to find him holding up his right arm wrapped in a white dish towel, now deeply crimson stained, and moaning in extreme pain. Mom, being a nurse, took off like a battle ship on a mission. She laid a firm grip to Oliver’s left arm and together they made waves to our snug kitchen. There was no mistaking her quick actions and concern. Once docked in the kitchen, she demanded to see his arm. Swiftly, the unpleasant looking, scarlet swathe flew off his arm.

It was unfortunate that he was not in Hollywood because he would have received an Emmy. He had managed to create real-looking blood with a mixture of water, red food coloring and flour. This along with his well-rehearsed words had us all thinking the worst. Meanwhile, Oliver was mumbling and a bit uncomfortable because the truth was soon to be revealed. Mom quickly turned on the water faucet and placed his arm under the cleansing stream. It was at this time that Oliver’s face began to resemble the color of milk in a paddle churn where the butter has just been removed. Once the water revealed a perfect cut-free right arm, I could tell it was my Mother who would have received the Emmy for best supporting actress.

Mom set us all straight that evening on the boundaries on faking cuts. She also informed us that if we were to keep up these actions, it would be a wise option to purchase stock in Clairol since she would have to receive Loving Care #18, warm brown, by the truck load. As mothers do, she convinced us to limit our pranks. She stressed the importance of positive mental expansion by thrusting us into the art of canning, and this is where the real beauty began.

I soon learned that memories, moods, and thoughts about canning could be contagious. I did not have the chance to know my Mom’s mother as she had passed before my parents were married. I have, however, gleaned much from the memories Mom shared with me about Grandma Lydia while she and I canned together. Mom informed me that Grandma’s canning was out of necessity as they had 11 children. This being the fact, she also shared with me that Grandma’s mood during canning was cheerful. She, however, instilled in my Mom a love for canning and also the divine flavor which can only be attained by a labor of love. I cannot recall a time when my Mom was not interested in canning and willing to put forth effort towards it. Just the other day, I visited Mom at the nursing home and handed her some home canned pickled beets which will be served with her meals. She gave me a smile and said, “I knew you would be canning.” As autumn’s chill draws closer, it warms my heart to know she shared not only the goodness of canning, but the thoughts of my Grandma Lydia around her canner as well. A treasured kitchen utensil in our home is our heavy duty steel jar filling funnel which was used by Grandma Lydia. Each time I employ this handy device in the kitchen, I am reminded that canning is a great source of enjoyment.

I share with you now a pizza sauce recipe that was a staple in our fruit room. After all tomatoes are considered a fruit, so this was right at home next to the pears and cherries.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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