Weeding and irrigating our ranch garden went on all summer. Sometimes, if the hay was drying or the fence didn’t need to be repaired, Dad and Mom put the young hired men to work irrigating or hoeing the garden — jobs I’m sure they detested.
Perhaps the family member who enjoyed the garden the most was my sister Darlene. When she was in her preteen and teen years, she would put on a big hat, grab the hoe and head for the garden. Possibly the most memorable story about the ranch garden involved Darlene and the pole beans.
Pole bean plants produce beautiful long pods, but the catch is to get the plants to stand upright. That’s done by getting the bean plant’s tendrils to coil around something (like a fence or pole of some sort). The tendrils will grow and keep the plant upright.
So that’s what Darlene was doing that summer — getting the tendrils to start coiling around whatever had been put in the garden for that purpose. (For this story, we’ll say a piece of fence.) Darlene gently coiled the top of the tendrils along the fence and went off and left them. The story goes that it was about this time that Dad decided to set off some cherry bombs to scare away the deer that had been eating the garden plants.
The bombs went off, and the next morning Darlene found all of the bean plants flat on the ground. Could it have been that the deer weren’t the only living things that got scared during the racket? The story that was passed along all of these years was that after the cherry bomb incident, Darlene never could get the tendrils to take hold. Today, Darlene tells a different story. She said that she was winding the tendrils the wrong way. (I’m not sure if she discovered that during the summer or not.) Anyway, the family has had a lot of fun with the story.
One thing was for sure: We enjoyed eating the green beans and other vegetables when they started coming on. Mom cooked up green beans flavored with bacon, creamed peas with new potatoes, wilted lettuce salad and a lot more. I especially remember the green beans and peas because when they really started to come on, we picked bushels of them. Then it was time for canning.
After we picked the beans and peas, we carried them to the enclosed front porch where we girls got them ready for Mom to can. First, however, we went down into the basement and brought up canning jars. They were washed in soapy water, rinsed and sterilized.
Out on the front porch, we girls took the ends off the beans and snapped the beans into bite-size pieces. We shelled the peas. The pods and bean ends were put in a discard bucket, and they eventually were taken out to the chickens. The job was so monotonous that I must confess to sometimes hiding a whole bean or pea in the discard bucket.
In the kitchen, Mom packed the jars with vegetables. She added salt and water and then picked lids out of hot water and secured them to the filled jars with rings. The jars went into a basket and then into the pressure cooker canner. The canner was heated on the stove until it reached a certain pressure and then held at that pressure for a prescribed amount of time. The pressure killed off organisms like those that cause botulism.
We kids regarded the canner as villainous because it hissed away as steam was released from the petcock. Mom discouraged us from being in the kitchen when the canner was on the stove because she always feared something would go wrong and it would explode.
After the jars were sterilized, they were placed on the kitchen counter to cool. We listened for the popping sounds as the lids sealed. If the jars didn’t seal, they had to be re-done. The jars were washed off with vinegar water and carried to the basement where, by end of summer, there would be hundreds of jars.
Our garden was a lot of work, but we depended on it for winter meals.