Tradition of Preserving Food Lives On

Great-Great-Grandmother shares how generations of her family has continued the tradition of preserving food.

Woman Canning Vegetables

Old-fashioned photo of a young woman preserving food.

Photo By Shuttercock/Everett Collect

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I’m 90 years old and have always lived on a farm. As far back as I can remember, Mama preserved fruit, vegetables and even meat, so our family would have plenty to eat during winter.

It began in spring with strawberries. I would help pick them, and then Mama would preserve them. Oh, how I loved her strawberry jelly. When the peaches were ripe, I’d pick a big batch, and then head home to fix myself a bowl of peaches and cream. Mama canned the surplus. We also had figs, plums and grapes. Grapes and figs make good preserves, and we often made grape and plum jelly.

When it came to preserving apples, we cut them and dried them in the sun. To do this, we lined the tin roof of the chicken coop with newspapers, spread the apples out, and covered them with cheesecloth to keep the flies off. Each night, we brought them inside so the dew wouldn’t get on them, and then the next morning we placed them in the sun again.

We picked and canned all kinds of vegetables from the family garden. With the abundance of cucumbers, we made pickles and pickle relish. Mama even made watermelon rind pickles.

When we butchered a hog or a cow, Mama canned the meat. We also cut up cabbages and put them in a large butter churn, tied a clean piece of cheesecloth on the churn to keep out the bugs, and made cabbage kraut. We sometimes made collard kraut, too.

I remember planting two kinds of sweet potatoes when I was young, one was red and one was white — and both were sweet. Daddy would dig a large round hole in the field, and I would gather pine straw to put in the hole. Then we would cover the straw with a layer of dirt and more straw. Finally we would be ready to plant the potatoes, and then we would cover them with even more dirt and straw. Since we didn’t have a cellar in which to store them, that’s how we made the potato hills to preserve our sweet potatoes for winter. I must say, the potato hills did a wonderful job.

Mama canned using a hot-water bath canning method, and she preserved by boiling the fruit with large quantities of sugar. After my husband and I got married, we bought a pressure cooker — and later purchased a freezer to store our frozen produce.

I learned to preserve our bounty at the hands of my parents. I happily carried on the tradition of putting up excess produce for my family, and my daughter did the same. My great-great-granddaughter now helps my daughter, her great-grandma, with preserving food from the family garden. Seeing this youngster want to continue the family tradition of canned preserves makes me very happy and proud.

Sanford, North Carolina

Read more about home canning in Stories of Food Preservation Methods.