Artifact of the Month: No can of worms here

The garden is in and we’ve already had the radishes and green onions, not to mention the wilted lettuce. This used to be a big hit at our house, except for me. That was fine, it made more for everyone else. I grew up in the day when you could get iceberg lettuce in the store, so I really didn’t like the idea of a hot dressing over what I didn’t even think looked like any lettuce that I liked. The one thing I did know, however, was that after the lettuce was gone, it was time for the parade.

The parade started from the basement up to the kitchen with all the empty jars from the previous year. This was not a job to be taken lightly. If you chipped the rim of a fruit jar, you were in trouble. We actually have to thank the French for the idea of the jar. They used it to supply food to their soldiers. Theirs were sealed with paraffin and eventually led us to what we always called fruit jars. I know they were Mason jars, but we always just said fruit jars. We also had to bring up the 5 gallon crocks from the basement or cave, whichever you were lucky enough to have. It would, of course, soon be time to make sauerkraut. You just haven’t lived unless you have shredded cabbage and alternated layers of raw cabbage and salt in a crock. Then you put a large platter upside down on top of all the cabbage and weighed it down with a big rock. By the time the kraut had fermented and been skimmed and was ready to be canned, we were well into the continuing action of summer.  The empty jars had to be filled.

Most everyone had a summer kitchen, usually out the back door of the house. When you had to cold pack everything in a water bath and keep it on simmer for hours on end, it was great to have that away from the kitchen. The heat was almost unbearable, but you needed those jars of food to survive the long winter. We canned all kinds of berries, peaches, apples, green beans, tomatoes, sauerkraut, and things you would never think of. We canned fish and beef and pork and potatoes. It just never ended until you were out of jars. Then you had to go back to the basement and bring up jars of food that had to be emptied and eaten-you guessed it-so you could have more jars.

It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t all bad. Sometimes you would can with the help of family and friends. You visited and caught up on the news and the days didn’t seem quite so long and hot. And seriously, ,in the middle of winter when you had hash made from canned beef and potatoes and fresh peach pie, it was worth every back breaking moment.

Come visit us at Kibbe Museum.  I’ve told you some of my memories of jars and crocks.  Maybe you have some too.  We have the jars and crocks on display and oh, how we wish they could tell us their stories.
Did you know that canning jars and other bottles are important clues for an archaeologist?  Read more about the value of jars for dating an archeological site at the Society for Historical Archaeology.

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