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Wintertime Foods

Country at HeartIn the wintertime, we would not have eaten so deliciously had it not been for my industrious grandmother. She helped us out with canned fruits and vegetables, mostly from her own garden. Sometimes we'd help a neighbor harvest his sweet potatoes or some other fall crops, which they shared with us, but our winter stash came from Grandma's smokehouse

My mother wasn't a "canner," but vaguely I remember eating her pear preserves during the winter. I say winter because pears are a late fall crop, and the only pears that we picked were from a tree that was on an old, abandoned homestead down in the woods. Those are the pears that she canned.

Pears are my least favorite fruit, but I reluctantly ate them — only after the more delicious preserves (like peaches) were long gone. Actually, I think the rest of the family had taste buds similar to mine, because pears were the last canned fruits that were eaten. Or was it because they were canned without sugar? I can't say for sure, but I do know that it was almost spring before the last jars of pear preserves disappeared, which proves that they were low on everybody's "desire" list. Eventually, though, they were eaten.

Our family winter's survival started in the spring (when the first produce was ripe) and ended in late autumn. You know how bears, ants, squirrels, and other creepy-crawly creatures gather and store away their winter harvest in the summer and fall? Well, while they were busy foraging for their meals, Grandmother was busy harvesting from her garden. While the wild animals packed their "finds" into the ground, in tree trunks, or under piles of leaves, Grandma packed her bounty in air-tight Mason jars and stored them away in her smokehouse.

Nuts — though not exactly what I consider food — are gathered in late fall and early winter. They can be stored in cans and buckets and eaten well into springtime and beyond. We had a hickory nut tree and a black walnut tree in our front yard. Those nuts and the few stray pecans that we gathered in the orchard added a little more protein to our otherwise lean, meat diet.

Pears, apples, peaches, watermelon rind preserves, wild plums and berries (from nearby orchards and patches), and anything else that could be gleaned from the woods, vines, bushes, and trees was canned. If something could be eaten, it was.

My grandma canned chicken, pork, and wild game, which we ate mostly at her house. That was fine with us, because Dad "put up" slabs and slabs of fatback, sugar-cured hams, and salted-down pork. We didn't have a smokehouse, pantry, nor shelves on which to store our winter reserves, so our empty back bedroom became our smokehouse.

Since no one slept back there, and since in the wintertime it was refrigerator-cold, that's where we stored anything that needed to be kept cold. And, surprisingly, whatever we stored in that "deep-freezer" was good to eat throughout winter. Thank God for those wonderful and almost miraculous preservatives — salt, sugar, and cold weather. They helped our food (and us) survive during seasons when the weather is too inclement to run around looking for something to eat.

Canned food
Photo by Fotolia/Serjik Ahkhundov