Vegetable Gardens and Canning Green Beans (Recipe)

Photo by Mattysc@en.wikipedia
Several of my friends buy organic food, get locally-grown produce when possible or participate in farm shares.  Some grow their own tomatoes and herbs, but no one has enough space to have a vegetable garden.

I love fresh produce that hasn’t been shipped in from Mexico or Florida (or Chile, depending on the season), but I do enjoy having fruits and vegetables year-round, whether they are in season or not.  And I am glad I don’t have to grow my own food.

Anyone who has ever had a large vegetable garden knows it is hard work.  When I was growing up on the farm we had a garden with sweet corn, Kentucky Wonder beans, tomatoes (usually Big Boy), cucumbers, canteloupes, and yellow squash.

Daddy broke up the ground with the tractor then went through with the disc to break up the big chunks of dirt and marked out rows for us.  He put in a little fertilizer.  Then Mother and I planted everything, and it was our job to weed it and harvest what we grew.  One summer when Mother was sick Daddy and I planted the garden, and we screwed up–we put the cucumbers next to the canteloupes.  They cross-pollinated and did not bear anything.  Who knew?

Hoeing is a hateful job, especially in 90% humidity and early-morning temperatures above 80 degrees.  But it had to be done, because we did not have today’s genetically engineered crops which can be used with Roundup herbicide for no-till farming.  So we chopped out weeds as early in the morning as we could stand.  Our garden was not organic; we used a pesticide early on before the plants started bearing, or else there wouldn’t be a good crop due to the plants being eaten by insects.  Once the vegs started, the pesticide stopped, and the battle with the bugs began.

When the tomatoes came in I had many a stand-off with blister bugs when trying to pick ripe tomatoes.  Picking and shucking corn led to encounters with those big fat worms eating the end of the ears.  Some kind of wasp liked to hover around anything that flowered, like squash vines.

And the work didn’t end with picking.  Tomatoes were about the only thing that didn’t have to be prepared in some way, and Mother canned and froze dozens of quarts of beans, corn, squash and tomatoes each summer.  We also picked blackberries and froze them or made preserves and jam, picked pears from someone else’s farm and made pear preserves.  Mother even made pickles.  She had a recipe for lime pickles (made with lime–the mineral–instead of salt) which were delicious, crisp and a bit tart.  I was a largely unwilling assistant in all this.  I’ll never forget the summer we picked, broke up and canned 90 quarts of green beans.

Mother did not have a vegetable garden because it was healthy–she grew one to save money, to make sure we had good food for the winter (hence the canning and freezing) and because it was the way she was brought up.  I hated the work, but I did love the end product.

Here is a recipe of hers I just found for canning green beans.  This is a faster method than the usual cooking down to a mush for hours.  I have not tried this one!  You still have to put them in sterilized jars and make sure they seal.

Canned Green Beans

4 1/2 quarts green beans, broken

1/2 scant cup salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vinegar

Put the salt, sugar and vinegar in a large pot with the beans, and bring to a rolling boil.  Cook about as long as you would fresh green beans you were going to eat right away.  Then put into sterilized jars and seal.

When ready to use, open a jar, pour off the liquid and season as you normally would fresh green beans.

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Father’s Day: Daddy and the Whippoorwill

I get a bit sad as Father’s Day approaches every year, even though Daddy has been dead for more than 30 years now.  I still miss him.  A social worker I spoke to last week about a blog post I was writing for my job said it’s not unusual.  She said, “Feel your feelings, it’s all right to be sad.”  She also recommended doing something on Father’s Day to remember, whether it’s lighting a candle, writing a letter to your dad, or telling a story.

I remember so many things, but I decided this week to try to find a funny story.  I had dinner with some friends the other night, and we were talking about how certain kinds of birds have been singing at the top of their lungs at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning for the last few weeks.  That reminded me of Daddy and the whippoorwill.

That was the summer our house on the farm was being built.  Daddy rented an old farmhouse from Mr. Johnny and Miss Ora, an ancient couple who lived further along the road from this house, so we moved to the country a few miles from the farm.  It was an old white clapboard house with a rickety porch.  The wood floors had cracks between the planks big enough to permit odd-looking insects to emerge on occasion.  I would not walk barefoot on those floors.

The house was not air-conditioned, of course, so we had to leave the windows open and use window fans or circulating floor fans to cool off as the summer got hotter.

The house was surrounded with old cedar trees.  There was a huge one in the back yard.  The trees made it shady most of the time, and they were a haven for birds.

If you’re not from the South you may not know whippoorwills.  They look a bit like meadowlarks, only they aren’t as pretty–no yellow throats on them.  What they are known for, and named after, is their call.  WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, repeated over and over and over again.  Rumor had it that they sang faster when the weather was hotter, but no one has validated that claim so far as I know (unlike crickets, of which this is true.)  You hear them sometimes in a field during the day.  But during their courting season they like to get a jump on things by singing during the night.

One night long after we were all asleep a whippoorwill began singing from the clothesline on the back porch.  WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL!  Daddy ran out to the porch and shooed the bird away, then went back to bed.

He hardly got in bed before the bird started again, this time from the big cedar tree in the back yard.  WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL, WHIP-poor-WILL!  I could hear the murmur of Mother and Daddy’s voices.  Mother probably said something like, “Leave it alone, George, and it’ll quiet down.”  But the bird went on and on.  Daddy went out in the back yard in his boxer shorts and T-shirt and yelled at the bird.  It shut up the moment he came out.  But as soon as he was back in bed it started again.

That was it.  Daddy grabbed a shotgun and ran out to the cedar tree.  I got up and looked out to see what was going on, but it was pitch black.  I did hear Mother say, “George, put that gun down, you’ll just shoot yourself!”  The bird was dead silent.  Daddy waited a few minutes, then went back into the house.

Maybe the bird sensed real danger for it must have flown out of the tree.  I heard it calling again, but at a distance, out in tree-lined field in back of the yard.  So we all went back to sleep, to the hum of the fans, and no whippoorwill calls.

Flour Sack Dresses

Photo of feed sack dress from Va Voom Vintage
When Mother was a child on a small farm in Tennessee, one of five children, times were tough.  They grew most of their food, canning vegetables, preserving fruits, smoking hams and bacon.  Mother said there were days when supper was nothing but biscuits and sawmill gravy (made from leftover bacon grease, mainly.)  Cornbread and biscuits were the staples of existence.

When she told me that her mother made dresses for them out of flour sacks, I found this hard to picture or to believe.  I thought the fabric must have been rough, like a feed sack.  Recently I did a little research, and saw that the fabric was necessarily thick and tough, to protect the contents, which were basically flour or chicken feed.  But companies were marketers back then, too, so they began to use prints which looked more like something you’d want to wear, instead of advertising Martha White.

The only good part about it is that nearly everyone in their community was in the same state, so wearing a flour sack dress did not make you conspicuous.  The only halfway affluent person was the postman and his wife–and he also farmed and sold milk.  Mother was keenly aware that there were better dresses to be had, and that her family could not afford them.  And she loved her Papa so much, she would never have said anything to make him feel bad that he could not provide for more.

Nonetheless, she was thrilled when she got a new dress one fall that was actually storebought.  She set off for school with Elsie, her best friend (who married Daddy’s brother later when they were grown up. ) Elsie admired the dress, and asked Mother to switch with her.  So she did, and Elsie arrived at school in the new dress.  I can’t think why Mother did this, as badly as she wanted a new dress.  I guess she loved Aunt Elsie more.