By Joe Rector
My son Dallas has a lot of his grandmother’s DNA flowing through his veins. For the second year, he’s put out pepper plants in five-gallon buckets (he doesn’t have much yard at his condo). He’s babied those plants, and they’ve yielded hundreds of banana and jalapeno peppers. Dallas has concocted his own preservative juices into which he places them. He’s even given jars of his harvest to friends and neighbors.
My mother spent most of the late summer putting up things out of the garden. Of course, the first thing she did was pick and pull and dig the vegetables from plants or the soil. Daddy had run a tiller between rows to keep most of the weeds down, and we boys were exiled to that same garden to pull weeds where the plow didn’t reach.
Mother scrubbed some things and washed others. We broke beans until our fingers were sore, and we dodged yellow jackets as they swarmed around the sweet corn that she cut from the cob. Next, she began the process of saving the food for the winter months.
Some vegetables were frozen. Corn was cooked, cooled, and placed in freezer bags. It was stored in a chest freezer as large as a coffin and stacked between the meat from half a calf and a heft supply of day-old bread and snack cakes. Green peppers, as well as peaches and strawberries, were cut into pieces of diced before being frozen.
The heat of summer was intense in a house with no air conditioning, but Mother fought through that over a hot stove. She boiled water in huge pans and then filled them with Mason jars stuffed to the top with green beans or stewed tomatoes. The things I loved the most were pickles. She had a fantastic recipe for dill pickles, and she also put up several jars of sweet pickles. We heard popping throughout the day as the lids to the jars sealed. Kitchen counters disappeared under the quart jars of foods.
Mother also made sure we had plenty of jelly. We picked gallons of blackberries and got a heavy dose of chiggers for our efforts. We raced the birds to pick grapes from the vines in our yard. Mother also picked apples from our yard or from an orchard. By the time she finished washing, peeling, and slicing those fruits, dozens of jars of jelly, jam, and apple butter were ready for the paraffin sealer she always poured on the top of the jar before twisting on the lid.
We all helped to carry the preserved foods to the basement. The top of the ledges served as shelves. Mother put green beans in one area, pickles in another, and jellies closest to the stairs. I marveled at how much food she’d stored away and thought we’d never get through it all. By the end of winter, however, the ledges were nearly bare, and the freezer had huge voids where meat and vegetables had once sat.
I miss those canned foods that were always a part of my younger life. Most of all, I miss the woman who worked so hard to make sure her family had plenty to eat in the cold months of the year. It would be nice to have one more dill pickle or one more quart jar of beans. Even better would be a big jar of blackberry jelly. I hope Mother knows how much we appreciate all that she did for us.