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A Day On The Farm
How Family Roots Are Handed Down Generation to Generation
This morning was beautiful. A heavy frost sparkled across the fields. The ground made a crunch sound as I walked to the back field. The water run off had frozen overnight into mini ice skating rinks. Ice droplets had formed on the fencing. Spider webs were sparkling in the sun. Indeed I was blessed with the beauty that was around me and so caught up in it until I felt the cold poopy mud ooze into the side of my Crocks as I opened the chicken coop.
As my chickens clucked and ran out of their coop to see what goodies I was about to spread across the ground for them, I remained with my thoughts and myself asking, “How did my life get me to this point?” I am by no means a doomsday prepper. I am not a farmer. So how did I come to raising chickens, growing and preserving my own food, stock piling small amounts of supplies for those just in case moments … how? I was raised in the suburbs of Washington DC for goodness sakes! I am a city girl!
Preceding back up to the warmth of the fireplace in my house my mind quickly went back to my childhood days. Stories I was told about life as a coal miner’s daughter in the hills of West Virginia as only my mom could tell, forever echoing in my mind. My paternal grandmother talking about moving from the Blue Ridge Mountains back to the city to the land her father had given her; building their home and raising children where they could have the best education and opportunities. Watching my maternal grandmother work her fingers to the bone, cutting cabbage and putting it into crocks to make sauerkraut.
I can no longer remember the sour smell of the sauerkraut or hear my grandparent’s voices. But I do have a library of memories and stories, each of which I hold dear to my heart. And with that, I quickly remember how I made it to here, with my muddy poop covered Crocks.
As a child I would help my paternal grandfather in his gardens. Picking beans, green peppers and tomatoes. Searching for potatoes in the freshly overturned ground; rubbing off the dirt and placing them in a bucket. Eating the best tasting turnips handed to me by my grandfather as we took a work break, sitting in one of the rows of the garden. I remember the hot sun burning down on us and the coldness of the fresh well water we drank. My grandfather’s gardens were always beautiful and bountiful.
My paternal grandmother wouldn't work the garden. She was always found inside the kitchen with the pressure cooking singing as she packed jars full of the beautiful vegetables we bought in to her to can. There would be a rainbow of the warmest colors ever shining from the processed jars cooling on the table. My grandmother always said the pinging sound of the jars sealing was music to her ears.
I remember how horribly hot my grandparent’s house was during canning season. With only fans blowing to help circulate the humid air, as there was no air conditioning. All the windows and doors would be propped open. Sweat would be running down our faces. We would sit in front of a large fan lost in conversation and some of the greatest stories I have ever heard.
I loved hearing my grandmother talk about her younger years during the depression. Stories of how giving her family was to those who were not as fortunate. Her family by no means lived a lavish life. She said her father would pay on the store tabs of others to help them out so they could get groceries to feed their families. She said it was never much but people were grateful because times were hard. My grandmother spoke of how one of her sisters needed a coat and another had purchased herself a new one. Since one sister had a need, the other gave her the new coat and said she would rather wear her old coat another year. They were a family who put the needs of others before their own.
I remember my grandmother not allowing anyone in the kitchen when the pressure cooker was being used. She would always say she didn't trust it and she wouldn't be able to live with herself should something happened and we get scorched from the hot water. There was never a mishap but I swear to this day it is why I won’t allow my children in the kitchen when I have mine working on the stove top.
My maternal grandmother passed when I was twelve so I didn't get to enjoy long canning days with her. The memories I have are special and filled with the sweet taste of her bread and butter pickles, end of garden pickles and potato candy. She was a gentle, hard working woman who would always want to cook for us when we would visit. I can still see her hands as she was quilting and see her laughter while playing Yahtzee.
When my paternal grandmother’s health would no longer allow her to can those beautiful vegetables from my grandfather’s garden, I started to take on the interest of giving it a whirl. My grandmother had my grandfather give me her canning supplies which included her wet bath, jars, rings, lids, funnel and tongs but not the pressure cooker because she just didn’t trust them. She handed me her Blue Ball instruction booklet from the 1970’s and gave me step by step instructions. My grandfather included a bushel of beautifully ripe tomatoes.
That summer I canned my first 86 quarts of tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden. I would call my grandmother every day and tell her how many I had done the previous night. Her voice was full of excitement and laughter. She was so proud of my accomplishment and told me it was the hardest but most rewarding work you can do besides raising children.
At the end of summer I loaded up 43 quarts of tomatoes and took them to my grandparents. My grandfather, who could always be found sitting in his favorite chair under the huge shade tree outside, greeted me in the driveway. I opened my trunk and showed him the jars. I don’t ever recall a more surprised yet grateful look ever found on my grandfather’s face. He was so excited he took a jar in to my grandmother to share with her the gift I bought to them before we took the jars to store in their cellar.
My grandparents are no longer here but I am thankful for the roots they all had a part of installing in me. I have inherited all of my paternal grandmother’s canning supplies. When I fill an older Mason jar like a bicentennial one or perhaps one that is a bit warped from years of canning with the beautiful fruits and vegetables from my gardens, my mind quickly goes back to those hot summer days. With each ping of a sealing jar I now hear the music my grandmother referred to. And now I know how this city girl got to where she is today with a small producing farm and a rainbow of warm colors filling the pantry.
Where to find canning supplies
Canning supplies can be purchased at any hardware or general merchandise store. Amazon has a large variety of canning supplies ready to order. If you are new to canning you will need jars, lids, rings (a new box of jars will have the lids and rings on them), a book on how to process the jars, and a canning kit.
Remember standard lids cannot be reused and it is good to have extra on hand should any of your lids buckle.