Putting Up the Garden

My maternal grandmother died when I was nine. My memories of her are few, and most have grown vague over time. But I still remember vividly the days of late summer when it was time to “put up the garden” .  My mother and my aunts gathered at Grandma’s to can the tomatoes, peas, beans, and corn we’d tended all summer.  Because I have small hands that can fit inside a glass Mason jar, my job was to wash the empties that were stored in a huge wash tub beneath the back porch. Mother would drag the tub into the yard, fill it  with warm soapy water, and hand me a rag.  I scrubbed each jar inside and out, washing away a winter’s accumulation of dust, cobwebs, dead insects. When that was done, the jars were sterilized with boiling water, and then the fun began.

I still remember listening to Mother and the aunts laughing, teasing each other as they snapped beans, peeled peaches, or stirred huge pots of peeled tomatoes that  were ladled into the clean jars. I loved seeing the jars all lined up on every available surface, the reds and greens and yellows  of the summer’s bounty bright against the white floral oilcloth table cloth. My bedroom at our house shared a wall with the pantry. Late at night, as the newly-filled jars cooled, the metal lids would seal with a soft “pop.” Often I drifted off to sleep counting the number of pops, and looking forward to winter meals of beef stew with canned tomatoes or peach cobbler served warm with cream.

Today, few people put up a garden. Years ago, my mother switched to using a freezer to preserve the gifts of her garden. Now, we buy what we need from the grocery store, but something is  missing. And I’m not talking solely about the quality of the food. Each can of beans and tomatoes, peas, and peaches from our garden contained a little bit of my family. I’m the first  to admit that I use convenience foods way too often. When I’m facing a deadline, it’s easier to toss a frozen casserole into the oven. But I still miss those languid summer days when my grandmother’s  kitchen was filled with the heady scents of simmering fruit, and with more than a little bit of love.

What childhood memories do you treasure?

2 thoughts on “Putting Up the Garden

  1. Susan Snodgrass

    Dorothy, you have brought back many happy memories. I well remember my grandma, mother and aunt sitting around peeling so many peaches, by the time they were done, their hands were so wrinkled! They put up tomatoes, beans, kraut, etc. My grandfather always kept hogs, too, and come the first frost, he’d butcher them and my grandmother used almost everything, even making her own lard! The dogs got the intestines, though. Yuck!
    I can nearly every year, although I don’t have a huge garden. I make hot pepper relish, can jalapenos, pickles, kraut ( not a favorite with me) and banana peppers. I love it! It’s so nice to stand in a garden and muse upon how wonderful God is to allow us to have these wonderful vegetables to eat. My cousin said the most wonderful sound of summer was the plinking of canning jars sealing. Thanks for bringing back many wonderful memories for me.
    Susan Snodgrass

    1. dorothy Post author

      Susan, thanks for sharing your memories. I had forgotten about hot relish. Remember watermelon pickles? I loved those things!


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