As an anniversary present Nancy and Ken gave us a dwarf peach tree–one that has several small peaches on it. We still haven’t decided where to plant it, but we guard it carefully, watering it thoroughly and protecting it from insects and varmints. Tending this tree has jogged my memory and has lured up pleasant childhood summer-time experiences.
Although we lived in town, a country mentality pervaded our home; at least as far as putting up fruit for the winter was concerned. Every summer, the day came when Mama felt a certain urge, and she forthwith rounded up her children and herded us to the garage. The canning jars were stored there. The barren winter days had been warned by cobblers and pies of such delectable essence that the cold itself had been stripped away. Now, in summer, the fruit jars sat on the shelves, empty as old women. A new stock must be laid by.
We tugged a galvanized tub to the backyard, then by the armloads we carried the jars there too. The fruit jars were dirty, some of them quartering thin-legged spiders whose existence we completely altered that afternoon as we tore out their gauzy webs and dashed away their filmy illusions. Occasionally, a mouse flashed across the floor, musty and gray, and we squealed as become children of a summer afternoon.
Mama poured steaming water and soap in the tub, and we set to scrubbing, the suds mounding as we thrust in our arms up to the shoulders. Before we were finished, our clothes would be drenched, but they would dry quickly in the hot sun. When the jars were thoroughly clean, Mama brought clear water, rinsing the vessels scrupulously until every trace of soap was gone. There, they glistened now; virgin girls lined up awaiting new fruit.
Our favorite fruit was blackberries, and our entire family worked to harvest enough berries for the canning Mother would do. We had friends who lived in the country near the small town of Diggins, which was twenty or thirty miles from Springfield, and they let us go onto their property to gather as many wild berries as we wanted. Picking blackberries is a hot, rather miserable job, for the springy limbs are thorned, set to guard the luscious fruit. We ate as we went, dust and all, so that at the day’s end, our mouths and teeth were stained blue. Chiggers were the bane of the expedition, small itch-causing critters, almost invisible, with a ravenous appetite for warm summer blood sucked from hot children or from hot mamas and daddies. Redbugs, my Louisiana-born husband calls them, and that southern term is an accurate description, for if you can strain your eyes enough to see a chigger, indeed, it will be red. These days, mid-west and southern berry pickers slather on Avon Skin-So-Soft, or some other product with a high percentage of deet, so they may avoid the Lilliputian pests. We just clawed for days.
Taken from: Road Tales by Shirley Buxton
Check back tomorrow for a look into a midwestern kitchen during the canning season.