When I look back on the canning my mother did when I was little, I really only remember two things-the heat in the kitchen and her frantically running around the kitchen fussing with jars, rings, and green beans. I know she canned other things, but I only remember her processing the beans. So many beans!
My parents grew pole beans but there was never enough to can from the garden. Usually by the end of the summer just when the beans were beginning to go from blossoms to beans, the well would start to run dry and the water had to be conserved for drinking and bathing. Our bean source was a U-Pick farm about 30 miles up the road. The whole family (2 adults and 3 kids, aged 4, 5 and 6) were pressed into service for bean-picking. We all piled in the giant, blue Buick and headed to the farm where we would spend hours picking (and eating) beans.
The excruciating part (for us kids anyway) was the ride home and the several hours after we got back. That’s when the snapping began. In the spacious backseat of the enormous Buick, we would kneel on the floor, using the seat as a table (safety belts were only suggestions and car seats completely unheard of) and snap the ends off the beans and then snap them into pieces. Each and every bean. For hours. And hours.
That’s where our involvement ended and Mom’s contribution got interesting. Mom would gather all the supplies-canner, lids, rings, jars, and of course the beans. First she would sterilize the jars in the boiling water of the canner, which was usually when we were discouraged from the kitchen and pretty much the house itself. The gas stove would be going for what seemed like eternity and after suffering a serious burn herself at that same stove, Mom didn’t want to take any chances with small, but curious hands. Sterilizing the jars is where if jars were going to break they would. This meant she had to fish broken glass out of the bottom of a 16-quart canner filled with boiling water using a pair of tongs. Hot jars would be fished out of the canner with the same tongs and beans would be crammed into them as tight as Mom could get them (hence the beans snapped into pieces). Boiling water was ladled over the beans nearly filling the jars and more beans and water were added if there was room after all the bubbles were removed. Lids and rings were attached and into the canner they went. This procedure would be repeated over and overa again. One year we had picked 100 quarts of beans!
I would peek in on this process from time to time and there was a thick layer of tension and a hint of panic in the air. The house would become unbearably hot as the processing wore on until the kitchen was just miserable. Mom never had any major incidents, but I remember that look in her eyes that meant she was not be asked what was for dinner that night or any question at all for that matter. Dinner would be at Grandma’s. And then for most months after that, the answer to what’s for dinner almost always included beans in some shape or form.
I distinctly remember the rollicking, gentle hiss of the pressure canner long into the night (it helped that our bedroom was also the kitchen). To this day, that sounds both thrills and excites me. It’s very satisfying to hear, knowing that my jars full of low-acid fruit or veggies are on their way to being safe for long-term storage, but there’s that low level thrill at having a 23-quart canner merrily hissing away under 10 pounds of pressure on the top of my stove. Pressure canning is always worth it and I can’t help but think of my Mom and those beans from my childhood whenever I process beans.
Do you have any memories, fond or otherwise, from your youth of canning? I would love to hear them.