Growing up on a farm, life was defined by the seasons.
Fall was my favorite. This was a time of cleaning up and hunkering down for a dormant winter. Since I was the youngest, my sister and I spent the days indoors while my dad, mom and older sister harvested the fields.
Inside, the kitchen was an organized mess, at least for three weeks. Mason jar lids were sterilized in boiling water. About two dozen of the jars covered the counters as my mom canned anything placed in front of her—green beans, beets, carrots.
My mom had to quickly prepare peas for freezing otherwise they would spoil. One year when Dad got harvested peas from a neighbor, enough to fill my mom’s brand new trashcan. Mom shelled about two-thirds of the large container before bedtime. Surely the rest spoiled by morning.
Sweet corn was cut off the cob with an unusual-looking tool that had a thick wood board with an extremely large nail sticking out of the middle. The corn was shoved onto the nail so my mom could then cut it off the cob. In winter, we enjoyed fresh corn straight from the freezer. In fact, we had two chest-type freezers in the basement. This is also where our canned goods and jars of jams, jellies and preserves were stored on shelves. We especially enjoyed the canned peaches and pears since we did not care for the frozen variety.
During the winter Mom did a lot of baking. Of course, most made it to the freezer, however, some of the sweets would disappear from there.
Other farmers’ wives also were tethered to their kitchen during this time. The women would swap recipes and ideas with each other. We shared our overabundance with friends and neighbors and they, in turn, shared jars of applesauce and tomato sauce and loaves of zucchini bread.
These long days of harvesting often lasted into the evening. Mom would prepare dinner earlier in the day as she and my sister shuttled between the house and field. Dad was rarely available to join us for dinner. Many years we sacrificed traditions like our annual Thanksgiving feast.
But soon we were rewarded with a slower pace and more family time. Despite the hard work, it was an exciting time.
At 78, my dad still toils in his garden in Canada. Much of my family has relocated to larger towns and adopted more of a city life. And although I have a small garden that keeps me busy, I haven’t managed to continue the ritual of canning and preserving.
Today, I enjoy the goodness that grows in our yard and the hard work it takes to make that happen. My husband appreciates the garden and my son loves watching it grow. This year he harvested a handful of pumpkins and is determined to see more next season.
It’s an amazing experience to witness seeds grow into plants and to be able to share those fruit and vegetables with friends who return home and make food of their own. Although I no longer live on a farm, I am fortunate to have a strong work ethic sowed in the fields and fond memories of this special season growing up in a close-knit community.