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Mother's Canning Season

February 6, 2017

Leslie T. Richardson- Memories & Other Stories


School is open and Fall is here again. This is a busy time! It is food canning time! Some methods of preserving food have changed drastically since I was a boy. Today beans and asparagus are cut up and placed in plastic bags in the freezer. Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, tomatoes and a host of other fruit and vegetables including corn, find their way into deep freezers. Not so when I was young.


During canning season mother was in second heaven. Coming from a large family with many hungry teenagers to keep fed, it was necessary to preserve as much food as possible. In later years when she was involved in Haldimand House Hotel, the amount of food in storage meant the difference between a profit or a loss.


Mother loved to can and although the preparation involved so much careful work she was always proud of her results. Even in her later years, she could not bear to see fruits and vegetables waste, but would not give them away wholesale. Her motto was "Waste not, want not." During the Depression days this motto kept the larder stocked.


Annually, in the late summer, mother had certain targets which she had set up for herself which she held herself responsible for completing. They were seeing that the town taxes were paid when due, buying 100 b. bag of sugar for her preserves, seeing that the winter supply of potatoes were stored in the basement and lastly, that the cellar shelves were full of her preserves. I never knew her to miss her objectives and I doubt whether she would have ever been content without achieving these goals. They were part of her nature.


Mother tried every recipe in the book and in most cases was successful. I remember her preserving citrons, which in the winter, were mixed with other fruits and added a richness to them which was unbelievable.


Mother's hardest task was preserving tomatoes. It seemed, that no matter how careful she was, bu Spring time, some one bottle would ferment on her in every batch canned. One day she discovered that a large pinch of salicylic acid added to the top of the jar just before sealing would preserve them perfectly. Annually thereafter we were sent to the McColl's Drugstore to get a five cent tin of salicylic acid.


Mother was famous for her home-made relish which she placed on her 10-cent footlong hotdog.


Canning in my home was done in two large aluminum pots. Aluminum was new and expensive. Today the style is to use stainless steel, but the older people used the familiar blue and white granite stewing kettles and some even had older iron kettles.


These large pots were placed on the wood stove. In later years gas took over, but when I was really young the wood stove was the main one. It had four lids and a large heating space over the oven and was ideal for preserving as the contents could be left to simmer away for a long time if necessary.


The fires were constantly fed and when the pots got too hot a lid was placed under the food. Sometimes the preserving kettles were moved away from the fire. It was hot work, but enjoyable.


Another pot was constantly steaming too, as the jars all had to be sterilized in hot water. The preparation took time; and the bottling took time. I remember mother was often busy after 11 p.m. getting things cleaned up. In the midst of this work she would be called upon to make hotdogs and to serve meals to her hungry family. I often wondered how she did it but she did.


One special part of the canning fell to me every year and that was the capping of the bottles of her home-made ketchup which mother made by the case full. We were fortunate enough to have pop bottles galore and these made ideal ketchup bottles. Mother would boil her brew of ketchup all day and would have it ready for me when I came home from school. She would fill the bottles and I would cap them. I got to be quite an expert in capping and I do not remember even one bottle going because of a poor cap.


On a cold winter's day when mother made hot Cornish pastries, a whole bottle of ketchup would disappear at one meal. It was a good thing she did not have to buy it or we would have been cut off. The tomatoes were grown in the garden and all she ever bought besides all-spice was the sugar and vinegar. Even with the quantities of tomatoes used and preserved, I remember her having a six quart basket of lovely ripe tomatoes for sale at 10 cents a basket. The baskets cost two and a half cents a piece and people complained about the absorbent price even then. No wonder people have difficulty adjusting to today's prices. Time along with the methods of canning have both changed.

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