Written as part of Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. This week’s topic: Preservation
I’ve been spending some time reflecting this last month about what autumn was like growing up in the small town Iowa. Starting in late August the smells, colors and even what feels like the texture of the air start to dramatically change. Nights start to darken earlier and if you go out you’ll need that jacket. School and more importantly, football have started up and every Friday night you spend your time on the stands cheering for the local High School. Or you’re under the bleachers with your boyfriend who is most definitely NOT on the football team.. but I digress.
Every year, my step mother and her sisters-in-law worked together on a very large garden that lived in our backyard (since we had the most space). That garden produced enough for 3 large families with lots to spare. It meant we generally didn’t buy vegetables in the winter, but instead ate the canned and frozen ones that came from the ground we lived on. While of course we ate from it all summer too, the primary crops of corn, carrots, potatoes, peas, green beans and other things were grown to keep for the winter when there was no “fresh” produce in the local super market.
For a few weekends in September, my mom and aunts got together in our kitchen and the preserving began. Giant canning pots on the stove, lots of freezer bags waiting; those women worked together at gathering, washing, chopping/slicing/preparing the different crops and then packaged them in freezer bags laid carefully in the large deepfreeze to set, or properly measured into canning jars and efficiently canned.
Along with the constant sounds of prep came the chatter and laughter of these women as they shared experiences big and small. After those weekends all of our families had a large supply of vegetables and pickles ready for the winter, and I believe that the women too were preparing themselves for the darker months of winter. The camaraderie and joy they shared acted as buoy against the coming isolation enforced by the darkness and constant snow and cold.
While I miss the fresh vegetables (oh boy do I), I think I miss more that time when families stayed closer together, when working together was a common practice. My mom and aunts got together because their mothers and grandmothers had been doing this same thing for generations. Women naturally bonded while doing the chores that needed done, sharing their joys and troubles.
In our family that ended with my mother’s generation. Most of my cousins have spread out across the country, and certainly, none of us have time for big gardens or the harvest and preparation for the winter. Having given that up, I can only wonder at what other joys I might be missing out on as I remember the joy in that kitchen.