When I most keenly sense Grandma in my kitchen is when I’m trying to ignore her tried and true recipes–like canned food–like Red Pepper Jam.
Grandma’s basement was full of wonders, like the lace curtain stretchers–wooden frames circled with the sharp ends of nails sticking out. During spring cleaning, when rugs small enough to carry outside were hung over the wire clothesline and beat with a bent rug beater, lace curtains were taken down and washed and then fastened around the edges to the curtain stretchers to dry, so they wouldn’t wind up in strange shapes.
Her basement also held an old wringer washer, long after she had a regular washer, but I remember when I was little and every piece of laundry was fed through the two rubber rollers and squeezed out after being beat by the agitators.
But most importantly, her cellar held shelves of glowing colors shining through glass jars–jams and jellies and “put up” foods. That would be canned foods–tomatoes and mustard relish and applesauce and crunchy cucumber pickles and pickled everything else that grew in the garden.
Corn relish–MMMMMMMM! Apricots and peaches brought summer sun to winter tables. Canned tomatoes tasted like the sun-warmed ones I pulled off the garden vines, juice running down my arm. How I wish I had Grandma’s recipe for piccalili–one of those concoctions that is different with every person who chops and seasons and cans.
Canned foods aren’t actually put in cans. They are put into sterilized glass jars and sealed with a flat metal lid with a rubber ridge that hold it tight to the jar, tightened down with a metal ring screwed on the top. Canning and preserving is back in style and you can buy the equipment at your grocery store.
I remember canning time as a time I dreaded. All day long in the humid days of the end of summer, sitting in an even more humid kitchen because huge kettles of boiling water were boiling away germs from the glass jars. Once the jars were full– packed into the large pans, and surrounded with water, boiled for half an hour. All evening, you heard the pop of the metal sealing as the air was sucked out and the seal complete.
You were in that kitchen all day long, up to your elbows in sticky fruit and vegetables. Peeling apples, slicing peaches, dicing tomatoes. Then you cooked them down, pulled a jar out of the boiling water with tongs, poured the hot food into the jar and put on the top. It was several days of gathering all the women in the family, or a couple of neighbors, to gossip about somebody’s recent operation or who skipped whose funeral. Hard work lightened by camaraderie.
Of course, as much as I did NOT want to slave in that sticky hot kitchen at the end of summer, I DID want to eat the wonderful food that came out of the jars.
In my mind, it was no wonder that canning and preserving and jelly making went out of style. But I may be ready to try it again, and I heard about a book that instructs on making small batches of canned goods. Maybe that would work for me.
I’ve had this recipe of Grandma Vera’s on top of my kitchen shelf for several months now, trying to work up my courage. I absolutely love Italian roasted peppers, so why not try this heritage recipe for preserved sweet red peppers ? Maybe you’ll make it before I get around to it. Let me know how it goes. Do you have a favorite heritage canning or preserving recipe to share?
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