In my second blog, It’s Springtime on the Farm! I mentioned that I had planted my beet seeds. I don’t have a huge garden, but there are several things that I plant every year because I simply cannot live without them, and cannot tolerate the inferiority of the purchased product. Beets are one of those. I love beets. I could eat beets every day. I could eat an entire pint jar of my beets at one sitting. My mouth waters and my heart rejoices when I see my canned beets stacked neatly on my pantry shelf. I am a beetaholic.
But I am also a beet snob. I have a discriminating palate. It has to be my own tender beets, nurtured by my own hand, nourished with our own horses’ manure, and canned with my mother’s recipe. Beets in a salad bar? No thanks. I would rather drink boxed wine.
So, it was extremely satisfying this past week when, after a long, back-breaking day spent in my garden, then in front of the kitchen sink, and lastly over a hot stove, I could say, “My beets are canned.”
I really don’t mind those long hours. It gives me time to think. One of the things I thought about was how food preservation has changed through the generations. My preserved beets are a luxury. In my grandparents’ day, canned foods were a necessity.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you would eat if there were no electricity? Out here on the Kansas prairie, electricity wasn’t commonplace until the 1940’s, and on some farms, the 1950’s. Towns might have been electrified, but electrifying the outlying, rural areas took much longer. What would you do if you had no refrigerator for your milk, or freezer for your hamburger?
Every farm at that time had dairy cows and chickens to supply their daily staples of milk and eggs. These were kept cool in kitchen ice boxes. Blocks of ice were cut from creeks and ponds during winter, insulated with straw, and stored in underground cellars for use in ice boxes during the summer. Till the day she died in 2011, my mother referred to her refrigerator as “the ice box”.
Fruits and vegetables were canned and stored on shelves in the cellar. Pork and beef were butchered in late fall, after the weather turned cold. Most of the pork was smoked and hung on hooks in the cellar, and most of the beef was cut into cubes, boiled, placed in stoneware crocks where it sealed with its own congealed fat, and also stored in the cold cellar.
Transportation was provided by horses, and only late in the pre-electric era did cars and trucks appear. Roads were poor and often impassible after a heavy snow or rain. Because of this, there were no weekly trips to a supermarket. In fact, there were no supermarkets. If you expected to eat during the winter, you had better prepare for it the summer before.
As I scrubbed my beets at the kitchen sink, I thought about the old days, and what a tragedy it would be if they were forgotten. I want to do whatever I can to preserve those memories.
In earlier blogs, I have mentioned that I come from a large family. Danny and I are very fortunate to be invited to the birthday parties of my great nieces and nephews, the grandchildren of one of my sisters. These parties are always joyous family gatherings, and everyone has a wonderful time. For years however, I struggled with ideas for birthday gifts for these adorable children. A Walmart gift card seemed lazy and highly inadequate.
After our move back to the farm, it occurred to me that I had something I could give to them that no one else could. A farm experience! Since then, I have given, as a birthday gift, a handmade gift certificate for a 3-day, 2-night stay at our farm. The kids love it!!!
I mention this because a couple of weeks ago, two of the cousins came at the same time. During their stay, they helped me preserve my rhubarb jam. (The first photo shows my uncut rhubarb.)
They clipped the leaves off the stalks…
And they sliced the stalks before cooking.
After I had filled the jars with the cooked jam, they helped place the lids and rings on the jars. As a thank you for their great help, I sent a jar of jam home with each of the girls.
Every year, when we take the girls back home, their parents always thank us for giving their children such a wonderful opportunity. The children give us warm hugs and a heartfelt “thank you” for the great time they had.
But you want to know a secret? We get as much enjoyment from sharing our farm as they do. Because in doing so, we preserve more than food. We preserve precious farm memories.
For all of us.
(Each of my books has been written with this purpose in mind: to help preserve farm memories for those who experienced farm life themselves, and to share farm memories with those who didn’t.)
Next Week: “The Wheat’s Ready!”