to educate, inspire and equip the urban homesteader

Putting up, in all its forms

August 6, 2010

My Great Grandma Hollan

I have fond memories of my great-grandmother pulling dusty jars with rusty-looking lids out of the basement.  I don’t remember watching her can or having a large enough garden to mass produce those dusty jars, so for all I know they were canned in a time before I was alive, but I remember the jars vividly.

They came from the depths of a basement where they sat in rows on a tall unfinished looking sturdy wooden shelf, itself covered in cobwebs.  You couldn’t see much with the light from the single bare light bulb that swung from the ceiling.  In fact, you couldn’t see a thing until you walked down about six steps and leaned over to pull the string on the old bulb.  These basement memories are incredibly vague – and could be vastly inaccurate for all I know – the basement wasn’t a place I wanted to frequent as a child.  In fact, it was known to be the home of a creature we called Igor, whose glugging sounds could be heard as he drank the water that ran down the drain in the bathroom sink.  But I digress….

I tell you all this because I think of my great-grandmother nearly every time I can, and I’ve been canning a lot lately.  Last weekend I was entertaining my mom with war stories and sucesses of the 100s of jars of salsa, preserves, conserves and jellies I’ve processed so far this summer and she brought up my great-grandmother.  “You know, that’s called ‘putting up’.  That’s what grandma used to call it anyway” she reminded me.

I agreed and then added “You know who’s ‘putting up’ is Jared.  I may be doing all the messy, foot-aching, sticky finger-making canning, but he’s the one ‘putting up’ with my mess!”  I say this jokingly because anyone who knows Jared probably suspects he’s a saint.  Recently he came home from a long day of work and set to cleaning the house.  I joked to him that he cleaned up in 1 hour what it took me all day to destroy!

I’m pretty lucky to have a guy like that, though we probably shouldn’t underestimate the toll guilt can take on a person.  I keep thinking he’ll snap someday, but every day he still comes home excited to taste my latest creation and happy to help me clean the sticky mess off the floor.  He says it’s a small price to pay for Sweet & Spicy Tomarine (tomato & nectarine) Salsa!

It really makes me wonder how my great-grandmother did it.  From age 21 on, she had a house full of children and much of that time she was raising grandchildren along with her own, then eventually bringing up her great-grandchildren too.  As an adult looking back I suspect that could be why the jars were dusty – maybe they were leftover from a time before children when she could ladle hot jam and green beans into jars without wondering who’s getting into what.  I wonder if one or two of the hundreds of jars I’ll have put up before children arrive on the scene will find its dusty self appearing to some yet unimagined child in a far-off future?  It’s funny to imagine!

Though the magnitude of canning I’ve been doing takes a lot of energy and makes a mess of my kitchen, I know it will all be worth the trouble in the end.  Not only are we committed to eating locally and seasonally, Jared and I are getting married next year and in an effort to make our wedding personal, our guest favors will be home-canned treats and home-brewed beer.  I like the symbolism of building a future with a foundation in preserving & honoring the past, sharing nature’s delicious bounty with those you love most and, yes, even putting up (in both its senses).  All those jars will reappear at the big event next May with lovely little tags and, though my great-grandmother never got to meet Jared, it will feel like she’s there in spirit.  And I suppose that’s enough for me.


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  • I couldn’t be any more proud of you, and I KNOW that Grandma would feel the same.
    All my love to you Sticky Fingers, and to your Mr. Dishpan Hands.

  • I’m late to the party, but I have to add some details, as your post churned up a wealth of memories. Hey, you put my mom’s picture on the Internet, so don’t blame me.

    Hilda put up most of her canned goods with her Aunt Louise at her farm near Lowry City, Mo. Louise’s kitchen was roughly 9 by 12 feet, and when canning was happening on a typical summer day it got unbelievably hot & steamy in there. My dad & I usually bailed out & headed for the farm pond to catch crappie & the occasional enormous snapping turtle.

    Louise’s garden was a thing of beauty. There would be a row of flowers about 30 yards long, paralleling the driveway, then rows and rows of vegetables. An evening’s entertainment comprised lounging in big chairs that were like portable hammocks — a fabric seat draped over sturdy metal framework — while listening to meadowlarks & watching hummingbirds swoop in & check out what we were drinking.

    Louise’s husband was a grumpy Croat. Uncle Louie spent most of his life in meatpacking plants, then retired & took Louise to the farm. He raised Angus cattle, probably no more than 50 head at a time, and wore coveralls & a straw hat & cut weeds with a scythe that was longer than he was tall. Louie chewed plug tobacco and enjoyed offering it to me: “Want some chocolate?” I recall that the plug looked like an enormous turd.

    When Louie died & Louise had to leave the farm, I missed the tragedy of the moment. I was a self-involved 20-ish-year-old, and all I cared about was getting their hide-a-bed sofa. I know better now, but of course it is too late.

    I was Igor’s creator & keeper, by the way, and I am simultaneously proud & distressed that he managed to intimidate two generations of Dirksen-Jackson children.