Food Preservation During the Great Depression

Author Photo
By Heart Of The Home | Apr 16, 2013

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

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.

Gardening is a challenge, and I would never want to waste
those delicious morsels of home-grown goodness, so preserving is the only
logical option. I’m now in my 80s, and I still find this a fascinating way to
feed my husband and myself, as well as a great way to keep active.

Sinai, South Dakota

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

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