I know. It’s July. And it’s hot…8 billion degrees, right? No one’s thinking of winter.
But it’s coming. That much I do know. And for us, winter typically means slow times. Business gets slower. Our income gets lower. (Hey, that rhymes!)
Growing up, my grandparents always "put up" food. By put up, I mean they canned and canned and canned food and frozen even more once they bought a massive chest freezer. My Papa always had a huge garden and we all ate from it. Good eats, as Alton would call it. One of my earliest memories is us playing out in the yard under an old oak tree in front of the house that is now dead and gone. Only a hole remains. Under that oak tree was a swing, rocking chairs and one of those green metal gliders (that I now want so badly). And toys. And a kiddie pool. For weeks, they would sit out there, under the shade, and prepare food for canning; as we got older, we were allowed to do more. Shucking and cutting corn off the cob. Your arms would be covered with flying corn kernels. Your hands would ache. Papa would sharpen knives constantly.
Green beans were snapped. Okra was cut. Peaches were peeled. Berries were washed in big tubs of water and sorted. I learned how to cut corn off the cob and how to snap beans and hull peas. My cousins and I shucked corn until we grew tired and irritable and were told to go and play; we were slowing them down anyway, as young as we were! We probably ate more berries than we sorted and gave ourselves plenty of belly aches.
I remember the kitchen being unbearably hot. The AC never worked great in the old house. Fans would be set up to move the air through the house. Screened doors were standing open. The smell of tomatoes cooking on the stove would permeate the house. We were told to get out of the kitchen before we got burned. Water bath and pressure canners were chugging steam into the air. Lunch was sandwiches because everyone was too busy to cook a full meal (rare in my childhood as my Papa always cooked dinner). The oppressive heat made for cranky children who’d swam in kiddie pools and played in the shade all morning. Hot, sweaty naps usually followed. And in the background, cans were popping as they sealed.
That was childhood. And at the time, I never realized that other people did things any different. I never realized that not everyone put up food. Not everyone canned. Not every child played in the yard while her family worked to make sure that they would have plenty of food for the coming winter.
But that’s what it was. My family may have owned a small convenience store and tractor dealership in town but they were also farmers working hard to hang on to land that my dad and his brothers purchased. And in the winter, not a whole lot is growing. There’s no garden to eat from. No way to supplement your grocery bill. No way to really cut back when your heating bill is soaring, despite fires in the fireplace. My grandparents had been born during the Great Depression. My grandfather had survived a war. They’d always lived in small, rural towns where families helped each other out. Now, we’re so isolated in our "communities" that we don’t know when a family is struggling because we "mind our own business" and don’t pay attention. We’re too caught up in our own lives to make sure our family is truly provided for in the event of major financial upheavals. We’re too self centered to care anymore. And I think it’s so terribly sad. And that’s another post.
My childhood taught me that summers were about preparing for the coming winter. Gardens, canning and working together as a family have always been a huge part of my life. And slowly, it’s coming back. I’ve said a lot how hard the bad economy hit my family. Well it wasn’t just Hunter, the kids and I. My extended family has struggled to make ends meet, to hang on to things and to get by. And we’ve pulled together. Hunter’s side of the family also relied on homegrown and preserved garden bounties to make ends meet.
Our lives haven’t always been simple or secure. And yes, there was a time when we’d gotten away from this lifestyle. But, in the past six years, we’ve come back. Our focus has been on providing more for ourselves, in being able to DO on our own. We’re "self taught" as our parents weren’t always for doing it on their own. Their generation is when I feel like we began to rely on others more for providing us with the basics we need to survive. Not that I blame them. They watched their parents struggle and wanted a different life. Now they are working just the same as us to bring those old ways of life back. I’m so glad they still remember how to do things. The older generation I knew is nearly gone. I miss my grandparents more than I can put into words. I wish I’d have paid more attention. I do. Now, I am teaching myself.
Winter’s a comin.’ It’s on its way. Canning season is beginning. And freezing. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk more about what we’re doing to store up food for the winter. That sounds so old fashioned! But its what we’re doing. It has saved our butts over the past few years. Sometimes, I feel like people look at me like I’m crazy or that they look down on me for canning, like we can’t afford anything else. That’s not my reasoning. We could easily buy mass produced canned products with coupons like the rest of the world. We choose to do this and I have to say…it tastes WAY better!
Do you and your family do any canning or other food preservation for the winter? Are you trying your hand at food preservation for the first time this year?