From Pipi’s Pasture: Canning season |

From Pipi’s Pasture: Canning season

Diane Prather/For Craig Press

Whenever I pass a produce stand, I remember “canning time” when my siblings and I were growing up on the ranch. It was an important time, because our family relied on the hundreds of home-canned jars of vegetables, fruits, jellies, pickles, juices, and meats to get us through the winter. Canning season lasted from early summer through late fall.

Mom seldom bought any canned goods at the store. We had vegetables from our garden — rows and rows of them. Fruits, such as plums, apples, and cherries, came from our own orchard and from our grandparents’ extensive orchard. Then, relatives in the neighborhood took turns making an annual trip to Grand Junction to fill orders for produce that didn’t grow well at high altitude. Produce included bushels of tomatoes, peaches, pears, apricots, grapes, and cucumbers. And later in the fall, Mom canned meat harvested from deer and elk. She even canned the meat with odds and ends of late garden vegetables to make soups.

All the jars were stored in the basement under our house. It had a dirt floor and a dank odor. Sprouts from our big front yard tree crept through the foundation and hung crazily along one wall. The basement was cool in the summer and warm enough in the winter so the canned goods didn’t freeze. Sacks of potatoes were stored there in winter, too, and by early spring, the sprouts were pushing through the sides of the sacks. Sometimes, apples and carrots spent the winter there, too. As I remember, they were put in bushels of sand.

There were shelves along two walls where the canned jars were stored. In early summer, we went to the basement and straightened up the shelves. Canned goods left from the previous year were pulled to the front so they could be used first. The year had been marked on the lids or on jar labels.

Then, when canning season started, Mom sent us to the basement to bring up enough jars for whatever she was canning at the time. We packed them up the steep stairs into the kitchen so they could be washed and sterilized.

We inspected each jar carefully to make sure it wasn’t cracked and felt along the mouth to find any nicks in the glass. This was important, because if there were any nicks, the jar would likely not seal. Jars that didn’t pass our inspection were tossed out. The good jars were washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed, and sterilized in a big canning pot that boiled away for awhile.

After that batch of food was canned and we had heard the “pinging” sounds to prove the lids had sealed, the jars were wiped down with a cloth wrung out in vinegar water (to make the jars shine), and we carried them back down the stairs to the basement and arranged them on the shelf.

We followed this same procedure over and over again through several months until the basement shelves were lined with hundreds of jars, our winter supply of food.


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