October 2, 2014
I have become my mother.
Well, let me clarify. I still have a long way to go before I am half as a good a person as she was, but, at least in the kitchen, I have become my mother.
The above is what I’ve been doing this summer.
When I was a kid, we lived out in the country, on a “place,” which is smaller than a farm but bigger than a lot. Ours was about five acres, one of which was house and yard and accoutrements, and one of which was garden, and three of which were pasture. And on those acres, we raised better than three-quarters of what we ate all year.
And from about the middle of June on, I was drafted into kitchen duty to assist in “putting up” the produce for the winter months.
Calves went to the slaughterhouse in the fall and came back in the form of wrapped packages of beef. Potatoes and watermelons went in boxes lined with straw to live in the cool of the basement. We generally bought half a hog from a neighbor, cured the ham and bacon, froze the sausage and some chops and roasts. We canned pickles and tomatoes and green beans. Froze corn and purple hulled peas and squash. Made jams and jellies and relishes. For years we did this, in the South, without an air conditioner. Mama and I would go to the ice house, get a 50-pound block of ice, put it in a No. 2 washtub, and turn the fan across it. Then Mama would threaten to whack me for sitting on the edge of the tub and blocking the cool air.
We — my mama, my grandmother and I — would sit on the porch in the heat of the day, listening to the radio and snapping beans or shelling peas, shucking corn and cutting it off the cob. And the next day, we’d put it all up.
After I grew up and left home, I quit canning or freezing summer produce, and I bought my beef and pork at the grocery. I bought prepared foods at the grocery. I ate fast food. I’d eat out more in a month than Mama, Daddy and I would in a year.
And somewhere along in my 50s, that just wasn’t what I wanted to do any more. I started buying produce at the farmers’ markets, and at the supermarket during the winter. I found sources for organic, farm-raised beef, pork and chicken. I quit eating fast food, and cut way back on prepared and snack foods from the grocery store. And about three years ago, faced with the easy availability of figs, I decided to make fig jam. From there, I branched out into other jams, jellies and condiments. (Long-time readers may recall my bacon jam, which remains about my favorite thing to put on a burger or a grilled cheese sammich.)
So this year, with an absolutely marvelous farmers’ market and a plentitude of side-of-the-road vendors, I really took off. Reposing in my freezer, along with what’s left of the quarter-cow I bought last year, three chickens, and several assorted packages of pork, are 12 packages of purple hulled peas, two packages of crowder peas, and 16 pints of corn. On the shelves, as pictured above are:
- Green beans
- Tomato soup
- Tomato relish
- Marinara sauce
- Chili base
- Peach butter
- Fig jam
Still to come are pear preserves (I brought home about 50 pounds of pears from a quick trip up home this week, and if you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em want some pears, let me know, because I think I was a bit overenthusiastic) and apple butter (when I can get Arkansas Black apples).
Next year, there will be more. I’m contemplating selling my little freezer and getting a bigger one. I’m going to start earlier on the canning and freezing; will absolutely be freezing squash and okra. Maybe one of my girls will get interested in canning and preserving. I know, at least, that Mama is smiling at me with approval.