Food excites me as I'm sure it does most of us who live to eat rather than eat to live, and I am so delighted that I had a smart grandma. She had a luscious garden and knew know to preserve her bounty. Since it's summertime, and since canning is done in late summer, I guess it's a good time to write about Grandmother's preserves and all the other good things she packed into those pretty, shiny Mason jars. Now, I've said this before, but it bears repeating. I never helped my grandmother with chores like cooking, gardening and canning, but sometimes I would watch her as she sweated and labored over that hot stove and those pots and pans. However, the most enjoyable part, for me, was hiding out some place and dreaming of a million delicious meals from whatever Grandma was "strumming" up. But then, there were those times when I looked on, because I knew that come wintertime, our table would be "graced" with some of what she had sealed in those clear, monogrammed jars.
Each year, when "canning day" came, my grandmother went to town and bought Mason jars and lids and rubber "rings," if she needed new ones. Actually, I think the lids could be used again, if they hadn’t rusted, but I don't think the rubber rings could be used again.
Now we are back at home and in the kitchen or at the table near the back porch where there is plenty room to work. Before Grandmother got ready to "can," she usually had a towel or cloth on the table where the hot jars would sit. The jars had to be hot, because the food was hot. If you put hot food into cold jars, they could crack. The hot jars also helped the hot food get "set in" during the cooling down process. After she had "boiled" the jars, she took them out and placed them on the table.
I may have taken the hot jars out of the water. If so, that's about all I did. I was prepared to watch but not necessarily to be of much help. "Playing" with food isn't my favorite thing to do, and I must admit that I really didn't do much on those preserving days, I’m just plain lazy when it comes to food work.
I sat in that hot kitchen watching and thinking, "Boy, I can hardly wait until winter gets here." When I saw the peaches and apples, I conjured up thoughts of tons of delicious fried pies. And when I saw the squash, okra, beets and other veggies, I dreamed of dinner and suppertime and how well those veggies would go with hot cornbread and organic, cow buttermilk.
Photo: iStockphoto.com/Mark Wikkerink
Anyway, all these jars sat lined up on the table, and my grandmother methodically took her cup and dipped from each container and filled the jars to the brim, but not running over. There was nothing to waste, and Grandmother had her "fill" down pat. When the jars were all filled, she put the "rings" inside each lid and squeezed the top as tightly as she could. Then she set the jar to the side. The little, thin, flat rubber rings that went into the top of the lid just before the jar is sealed is the clincher. I didn't understand it at that time, but now I realize that those "rings" help seal the jars, thus making them airtight so no moisture can escape nor can any enter from the outside. Any outside air (once the jars are sealed) causes the food contents to eventually spoil or rot. Then, all the cook's hard work is in vain.
When the sorting and pouring and twisting and wiping and sealing were finally done, the jars were transported to the "smoke house," where they sat until the coldest days of winter. That’s when my mother and uncle’s families received their annual portions from their mother’s hard work and her generous hands. What would I have done if I had not had Grandma to can food stuff to feed me throughout those long, cold, Arkansas winters? Thanks, Grandma, for all you did to help me grow up to be healthy and fit.