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?