Friday, June 15, 2012

Folklife Friday: Canning

There are those among us who think I'm a little touched in the head because I love to can food. I don't know where this comes from; perhaps a primordial instinct somewhere in that part of the brain we don't understand to store food for the winter? Usually, I don't do things the hard way if there is an easier option.  But I just love canning. 

It's much easier now than when we were children.  Mama felt herself a failure if she didn't have a room full of stored food.  She canned all the fruits and vegetables until she finally got a huge chest freezer.  We thought we had died and gone to heaven when we could just put that corn in bags instead of canning it over a hot stove.  It also meant we didn't have to wash canning jars that were brought up from the storm house, full of spider webs and dead bugs and unknown objects.  Sometimes, a lid would have rusted on the jar, which had to be removed and the rust scrubbed off so the jar was suitable for use. My lil' ole sister and I hated it when we had to scrub that rust off!

After Daddy retired, he and Mama would sometimes can things outside in a wash tub using the water bath process.  A fire was built under the water-filled tub and the water was kept at boiling temperatures for about three hours.  Daddy loved to keep the fire going.  Mama liked it because it didn't heat up the house, and over thirty quarts could be canned at once, instead of  seven in the pressure cooker.

My freezer gets filled with corn, sweet potatoes, and some tomatoes.  The beans and peas are canned, simply because we prefer the way the canned ones taste.  I love canning vegetable soup when I can get all the ingredients together at the same time.  Some things I have to can--hot slaw, pickled okra, jams and jellies.  I always can extra to give away at Christmas.

My pressure cooker was ordered from Sears about 1975, and I still have all the original parts (except for a handle on the lid) and even the instruction book.  Every year at canning time, I'm amazed when I find it all. 

This leads me to a story I heard about a sweet lady from over on Horse Creek who got herself a new-fangled pressure cooker.  She was so proud of it, and used it for everything she could think of.  One cold hog-killing day, a neighbor, who knew how she loved souse (head cheese), brought by a hog's head for her.  She whipped that pressure cooker out and sealed that hog's head up in it to cook.

Something went terribly wrong.  After the proper cooking time, she couldn't remove the top from the cooker.  It might have been that all that hog fat clogged something up, or the sealing ring may have just melted.  She was outraged, and promptly returned the pressure cooker to Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck, hog's head and all. 

I have often wondered about the poor worker whose job it was to handle returns. Was she having a good day up until the time she opened that package? Was she able to keep her breakfast when she opened the lid to see  a week-old hog's head decaying?  Did she consider a career change?  The Horse Creek lady got a new pressure cooker, but we never heard the rest of the story.