During the hot summers in Arizona growing up we would spend two days canning. Of course it was always the hottest days of the year. Giant pots of boiling water would start the process. Followed by what seemed like endless hours of peeling and prepping the fruit so it could be turned in to jam. The job that fell to me as the oldest child was to stir the jam as we cooked it with the sugar and pectin. I had to constantly stir the molten vat of fruit so it would not burn. We had access to pretty much unlimited supply of peaches so that was the most common one. We also would make apricot jam as well some years. But we canned all sorts of thing one year it was green tomatoes or my mom’s sauerkraut. She was the only one in the house that would eat it; there was no way that you would convince me that it was edible let alone good.
The day started early in the morning, we are talking like 6:00 am, with washing of all the jars and lids so that they could be sterilized with the first of many batches of boiling water. Then on to the sticky part, the prep of the fruit, we had to peel them and then slice them up so that we could start the process of cooking them. At first there were a lot of them that didn’t make it in to the pot. They would be eaten as we were cutting them up. Quickly that would not happen as much as we could not eat any more. Once they were prepped then it was my turn to stand at the over warm stove area to stir the pot full of fruit as the other pots with water started to boil for the final step of the process. I remember it being so hot in that small corner of our kitchen I just wanted to melt.
At first it was hard to stir the lumpy fruit but as it cooked down it got smoother. I could tell by how it looked that is was close to ready. My mom would add the final ingredients a few more spins with the spoon and my job was done for that batch. She and Grandma would fill the jars with the hot fruit mix slap the lids on them and then they would put them in the canning pot where they would boil in a water bath. This was when we would wash everything that was needed for the next batch. It was not unheard of for us to make 7 or 8 batches. I can still remember hearing the lids of the finished jars popping as they sealed themselves; it was the sound of a job well done.
I hated canning season, it was hot and sticky. But it was nice to have the jam in the winter as a small taste of summer when the days where short and overcast.
What prompted this trip down memory lane? Well in the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of thinking about how and where our food is sourced. And now things were different when I was a kid we were not dirt poor but we sure didn’t buy processed food it was all things that could feed a family of four more than one meal. Mom had a great freezer system as it turned out. She was what we now would call a stay at home mom, back then she was just a mom.
We ate locally grown food, some of it as local as the front yard. Not only did I unwittingly learn how to can, but I also have a general grasp of how to butcher beef and deer. Who knew that the stuff that I was “forced” to help with back in the day could actually come in handy moving forward with how I feed my family. Not that I am going to drag home a side of grass fed beef, but I may dabble in making my own ground beef someday. You just never know where life lessons come from.