Rick Houser:
A country woman always preserved

I have written a lot about putting out a garden and how we raised it and cared for it. In thinking about that topic I also have elaborated on how my dad and uncle and mostly the men in general came off sounding like the only persons responsible for all our vegetables and fruits that made it to the table when the story came to the end. Well let me say here and now that that statement is very wrong!

Rick Houser

Yes the men plowed the ground and in most instances planted and ran the equipment. But the truth be told is when the crop came to harvest, the part where what was harvested and needed to be processed to be used and to be most importantly preserved was left entirely up to the lady of the house. A true country woman looks at what has been raised and turns a crop growing in a field or on a tree or shrub into canned or frozen products that will taste great each and every time they appear on the kitchen table through the entire winter. Those wonderful ladies turn crops into tasty meals that we eagerly dip up and devour each and every time they are served.

I don’t think as a boy and a young man I ever entered a house in the country that didn’t have a pantry or cupboard or a designated group of shelves either near the kitchen or in the basement reserved just for the canned goods and preserves. Sometimes literally hundreds of jars of green beans or peaches and apples or other vegetables other than just green beans. I think one reason I appreciate them so much is when and how they got in those jars and on those shelves. I know of three ways I saw my mom do it. She would use a pressure cooker, or she would cook over a hot fire until the fruit became a preserve or she cooked it to I think she called it a blanche and then put it in pint bags and froze them. No matter which procedure was used a hot fire on a hot day was in the center of all that had to be done. Yes those ladies sweated over those hot fires so that we could dip up some stewed tomatoes or creamed corn. If my memory serves me correctly on this the men were seldom seen in the kitchen during a process of preserving when the kitchen had moved to the point of a degree above too hot.

A family that used their garden all knew what they were expected to do so the men did their part and after a crop was gathered they would plant some more. Too much was a phrase I never heard around our house. Dad ran the garden and mom ran the kitchen. As for us kids we got to spend many summer evenings breaking or shelling beans as we watched television or while listening to Marti and Joe give the play by play of the Cincinnati Reds. When the potatoes were dug we all jumped in and picked up the potatoes and got them to the house. It seems like I have heard many times over “many hands make quick work.”

One area I want to focus on is we raised a large strawberry patch and none of us were exempt from helping pick the berries. Mom made a lot of strawberry preserves. We got pies and berries on cake etc. but to her view the best way to keep them was to make them into preserves. I know one year she made 125 quarts of preserves and yes that is a lot! Mom cooked them by the roaster full and of course preserves take a lot of sugar in the preparation and with my mom I have said it before and will again sugar was her secret weapon so one can only imagine how much sugar was used that summer.

One part of this was that mom sealed the jars with paraffine. I know when the berries were coming close to being ripe mom would make a trip to the then new Kroger’s’ in Bethel and buy up a lot of sugar and maybe three grocery bags full of boxes of paraffine. So being equipped she took on the berries. She would stem and dice up that many berries and I’m pretty certain dad nor Ben or I were of help. Peg probably got to help on that detail. Now once the berries had completed the process of becoming a preserve the kitchen was good and hot but there was still the paraffine to be melted over a hot fire ( yup another hot fire!) and after the jars were filled she would seal the top by pouring the melted paraffine a half inch thick and letting it cool. When complete a seal formed that gave the strawberries their name. Preserved.

Yes canned veggies are nice and frozen ones also but if you timed it just right there was always ice cream at our home during this period of time and if you put a few scoops in a bowl and dip warm freshly made strawberry preserves into the bowl a better treat I cannot think of. As a matter of fact each member in my family found this to be a great idea and we each probably thought we were the first to think of it. (Sure we were!) I did mention we kept a few containers of ice cream at that time?

People still can and make preserves and freeze fresh garden produce. As one person said it eating this in the winter gives you a taste of summer all year long. As for me I can see all the beans canned and corn frozen along with apples and peaches etc. But my mind’s eye always returns to the never ending shelves of strawberry preserves. They were on our table morning, noon and night. At that time I had gotten worn out at eating strawberry preserves and had come to the conclusion that if I ever saw them again it would be too soon. Well I was wrong folks. What I wouldn’t give to have just one jar of her strawberry preserves one more time.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.