Becky Home Ecky has taken me over the past three weeks. I have been canning apple sauce, apple butter, pear butter, pickled watermelon rind with red onion, and garlicky bread and butter pickles with jalapeño peppers. The apples and pears I picked myself out of the gardens of friends, and this year everyone seems to have a bumper crop of apples, especially.
I have memories of my mother canning and making preserves and her mother, my grandmother, and my late cousin Suzy. My grandmother would pickle and preserveanything that stood still long enough, and she was an amazing cook. I remember my mother pickling okra and green tomatoes and I also remember her making peach preserves when my parents’ friend Charlie Peterson gave them a big bushel of peaches when I was little.
My mother’s German friends Susi and Babette were canning wizards. I remember all the things they made, pickled, and preserved. When you were in the kitchen of Babette’s farmhouse in the fall you could hear the sauerkraut popping in their stone crocks in the basement.
And I also remember my great aunts on Ritner Street in South Philadehia doing a lot of canning too. They had essentially an extra kitchen in the basement and I remember them pickling and canning what came out of my Aunt Rose’s large kitchen garden in Collegeville.
My Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl had this big old house with sweeping grounds that backed up to a farm when I was little. The farm had horses near some apple trees that would stick their heads over the fence looking for a pat (and some apples!)…my cousin sold the property after my aunt and uncle passed away and by that time (after 2000) where they once lived had stopped being country long ago, and was obscenely over developed.
My great aunts would mostly can tomatoes and made these pickled hot peppers that would bring tears to your eyes. I remember the jars of canned tomatoes all lined up one after the other all in a row. It actually looked really pretty.
I had a lot of fun doing my canning with the exception of a minor kitchentastrophe. I singed my backsplash behind my stove top when my giant 21 quart enamel pot I use for the canning water bath was off center on its stove burner.
My kitchen was filled with the smells of childhood. The vinegary garlic spice odors of making a pickling brine. And the sweet smells of apples and pears cooking in cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, and turbinado sugar. They were wonderful smells and truly sensory memories.
But last evening when I had finished placing my last batch of applesauce in the canning hot water bath, I was ready to be finished. Canning is actually pretty hard work, even if it’s fun. Your arms ache by the time you finish pushing hot fruit through the chinois before the final cooking stage. It made me realize how hard women used to work putting up food for their families to last all winter long.
I am pretty much a novice at this culinary art form. I am not as nearly accomplished as some of my friends and neighbors. I am sure as I do more canning I will become more adept.
Thanks for stopping by.