Food Preservation During the Great Depression

Reader tells of life during the Great Depression and how food preservation was necessary for survival.

| May/June 2013

  • Strawberries
    Bowl of fresh strawberries with sugar, canning jars and lids to be used for making homemade jelly or jam.
    Photo By Shutterstock/sanddebeautheil

  • Strawberries

Home-canned produce kept our family fed during the Depression years. At an early age, I became Mom’s helper in the garden, picking the produce when it was “just right.” We harvested the green beans when they were plump but still tender; Mom allowed no stringy, tough beans. She insisted that green beans be picked early in the day, quickly cleaned — with the tips and stems removed — and then cut into uniform pieces so the jars were appealing to the eye. Her rule was “No more than four hours from garden to jar.”

All the glass quart jars, rubber rings and lids had to be scalded and ready for filling by the time the beans were ready to pack. To ensure this happened, Mom put the washday boiler on the blue Kalamazoo kitchen range. She partially filled this “canner” with several inches of water to begin the heating process. She used peach crate boards as a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the canner, and she had to promptly add a jar or two to hold down the floating boards while finishing the filling of the canner. Some 13 or 14 jars, with lids carefully clamped shut, stood nicely on the board racks when Mom added the remaining boiling water from the tea kettle. The canner was then carefully slid to the hottest part of the range, and then more wood was put into the firebox to get the water boiling as quickly as possible. The clock started when the water reached a bubbling boil.

Apples and tomatoes were prepared with the same precision. Mom was satisfied when she looked at the rows of beautiful, uniform green beans, stewed tomatoes and tomato juice, applesauce and sliced apples to be used for baked desserts next winter. Young, tender field corn grown near the house provided another 200 to 300 jars of winter vegetables.

Mom’s goal was to have at least two quarts of vegetables and a quart of fruit for each day of the coming year, as well as some extra for threshing crews and special occasions when we had company, and a few to give as gifts.

For many years, I canned the same varieties of vegetables and fruits in quart jars, and then gradually switched over to jars with the metal Kerr or Ball screw-top lids. I continue to can today, specifically apples and tomatoes from our backyard garden. However, I’ve found that I prefer to freeze many garden vegetables, including green beans. Am I being lazy? Maybe, but I call it being practical about time.

For the past several years, I’ve been developing my own herb garden. It’s interesting and challenging as I try to preserve and learn the best uses for each of the herbs planted.



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