Tuesday, June 19, 2007


My siblings and I grew up on some of the most fertile soil known in Thurston County. Our five acres contained not only various species of evergreens, but also lilac trees, peach trees, transparent apples, the best Gravenstein apples in the world, and Italian plum trees. They all produced an amazing bounty every year, with friends and family reaping the benefits of our prolific fruit trees. The peach trees no longer exist, but when we were young, there were boxes of golden fruit. We kids liked playing with the sticky balls of amber-colored sap that would appear on the trunk and branches. We must have had hotter summers then, for you would be hard pressed to find a peach tree anywhere in Thurston Co. these days.

The ditches that bordered our front lawn were filled with little wild blackberries....those special ones so highly prized...and on summer afternoons we'd take our bowls out to collect a snack, and sprinkle them with sugar.

My father grew an amazing garden, and was into organic gardening years and years before it was ever popular. His garden was a showplace...not a weed in sight. Summer evenings after supper he could always be found out in the garden....hoeing rows of green beans, cabbages, squash, onions, and potatoes. There were carrots, beets, cauliflower, corn and broccoli. You name it, he grew it. And BIG. The size of the produce was amazing. Some of his cabbages could be cut up and given to four different families. There were also strawberries and rows of raspberries. On Saturday mornings, when the raspberries were ripe, we'd go out and pick them, and Mom would take us in to Grandpa's grocery store, and he'd buy our berries for 5 cents a pint. Dad also grew rhubarb, and we loved breaking off a stick, dipping the end in a bowl of sugar, and munching away.

Needless to say, with a family of 7, Mom did a lot of canning. Every August there would be weeks of washing jars, cleaning fruit, cutting and packing, and making syrup. Of course canning season always hit during the hottest time of the year, so the kitchen was a hot, steamy, muggy place to be. Green beans and peaches found themselves put into jars, while corn and applesauce were packed in paper cartons made for the purpose, and put into the freezer. Cucumbers were made into pickles...dill and bread 'n butter. Beets were canned...plain and pickled. And there were jars and jars of jam. All these pretty jars were sent out to shelves in "the fruit room."

Ah, now that was a place. Tucked into a corner of the (extremely messy, crowded, and cobwebby) garage (which was more like storage and a work space for Dad), dark and cold, was the fruit room. An enclosed room, with shelves along two of the walls (I think)...and bins for the potatoes, onions, and squash. I always thought it was kind of a scary place, for we'd be sent out in the dark of a winter evening to get a jar of this or that for supper, and you had to stumble through the cluttered, unlit garage area (I know there were spiders everywhere just waiting to attack), go into the fruit room (creaaakkkk) and find the chain hanging from the ceiling that would turn on the dim little bulb by which you'd find the jar you were looking for....and hopefully no spiders.

I always looked forward to the time when I would be able to do the canning for my family. Aside from my mother's wonderful example, I thought it rather romantic to be able to set aside in store, food for my family. Tho I know there is nothing romantic about slaving in a hot, steamy kitchen all day....I was enamored with a passage in my favorite book, "Little Women" , where Meg, as a young wife, decided to surprise her husband with pretty little pots of jam. She buys the pots, the fruit, makes the jam...and after a hot, sweaty afternoon, hubby returns home to find his wife in tears because the jam won't jell. Sniff. I wanted to make jam for my husband. I thought it would show him how much I loved him.

One year I canned everything that I could get my hands on. Even crabapples. Salmon. Tuna. Pickled green beans. I must have been insane. I made jam from anything and everything. Have you ever had fireweed jelly? Well, it's wonderful. It involves picking an awful lot of fireweed blossoms, but it's quite delicious, and is this wonderful shade of ruby pink. I haven't made that in years. We also decided to make fruited vodka...peaches covered with vodka and sugar and I'm not sure what else, in a glass bottle for a month or more. I don't remember what we did with the vodka, but the peaches were a tremendous hit with my husband's family.

Nowadays I do can peaches and pears, and I make a little jam. This past weekend I made strawberry. The strawberries from Spooner's this year are AMAZING. Big, red, and the sweetest flavor I've ever tasted. I guess our cool, dry weather agrees with them. I will do raspberry jam when they are in season, but that's it. I've given up my romantic notions of putting food aside for my family, and am taking the easy way out. The shelves of my local grocer.


Anonymous said...

You make it all sound so wonderful! When I remember all of the picking and canning and freezing and hot and steaminess, I remember Mom being so tired and me telling myself "I'm NEVER going to do that!!" And, I don't. If we have jam or jelly, it's because Al makes it. He likes doing it - I don't. I do remember the "fruit room" though. It was a neat place, wasn't it? You do such a good job of bringing our childhood to live. I wish you would write a book - about SOMETHING!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it shoud read: You do such a good job of bringing our childhood to life.

SEJ said...

I agree with tlc!! It makes me smile when you talk about our childhoods! I don't do as much canning as I used to either. It is a lot of work but I think it's worth it! Everything tastes so much better than store bought too!Another memory came to me Friday evening when I walked into the house after work. Randy was cooking a chicken in the smoker on the patio and it smelled just like Aunt Denie's house! Brought back some good memories!!

strauss said...

Oh Kathleen, that was just wonderful. I started reading this post a couple of days ago and it sounded too god to rush so I felt it for when I had time - so glad I did. The idea of a big family canning fest sounds grand. You Dad and my Dad would have had a good time together I reckon, his garden sounds alot like the one my Dad tended when I was a teen; my parents don't llive there anymore, but he is still into gardening, though on a smaller scale now.
My Gran had a pantry. It was glass fronted and therefore well lit, the coloured jars of perserves were a delight to me. And Fireweed Jelly sounds fabulous! I want ot try some, but doubt I will ever get tehchance. They don't have fireweed in Australia, but I have seen it over here in abundance - very pretty.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE IT!!!! Your stories are the best! They really make me smile. I was reading that about the "fruit room" and I got the willies. It was kinda fun to go out there though. It all came to life that's for sure. Keep on keeping on!