"Aubrey, go down to the fruit room and bring back a jar of green beans," Mother said.
The fruit room at our house was in the basement and it was a separate room just to the left of the stairs. The door had a latch on it and it was always sort of scary as the light bulb in the room was small. I opened the door and knew where Mother had stored the rows and rows of canned green beans and grabbed a quart size glass jar. I turned out the light by the long string attached to it, closed the door and latched it, went up the stairs and gave Mother the beans. I knew we would be eating green beans for supper, as well as some meat and fruit. Mother was keen on balanced meals.
Years ago practically every house in my hometown and farm houses in the surrounding area had a fruit room or a fruit cellar. The fruit room most often had a cement floor and rows and rows of shelves to hold all the glass jars full of canned vegetables and fruit. A fruit cellar was more likely than not to have an unfinished floor or simply a dirt base. Regardless, each was storage for canned vegetables and fruit plus potatoes, carrots, onions, squash and apples. Some homes in town and many in the country had a storm or cyclone cellar that was not part of the house but in the back or side yard. The basements were always cool in the summer and items placed there did not freeze in the winter. I doubt if the present generation knows what we are talking about, but one must remember it was before refrigerators or freezers.
Canning and preserving summer-grown vegetables and fruit began in late winter. Dad and Mother poured over the seed catalogs and debated what seeds to purchase come spring. One could order from the seed companies or buy the packages of seeds from the local grocery stores. Onion plants could also be purchased. Many people planted seeds for tomatoes and peppers in a nice warm place so it was a toss-up where you obtained the plants, home-grown or store-bought. The hot bed at home was sort of a head start program.
My folks always hired John to work their gardens up for planting. He would show up with his horse and plow. It was fun watching him and his horse go back and forth turning the soil over. After plowing it, he would get the horse hitched to the disc and again back and forth and finally a drag to smooth out the garden. When the seeds were to be placed in the ground Dad would rake the dirt and make it very smooth. He had a special hoe to make the furrows to place the seeds in. The hoe was in the shape of a spade.
We had three locations for John to take care of: big garden back of our house, a vacant lot one block west and two lots at the north end of town. The garden back of the house was reserved for the vegetables, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and flowers. They needed special care and watering if it was a dry year. The three other lots were devoted to potatoes and a few cucumber plants.
It was a constant job to hoe around the growing plants to keep the weeds from smothering them. The garden hose was stretched out and was used to water the plants using a rotating sprinkler. The potatoes always seemed to attract bugs so they were sprayed using a watering can filled with water and Paris green plus just picking the potato bugs off the plants. My folks grew lots of string beans and peas. When they grew and were ready to eat, that was a treat. Early peas are great. Wow! I can taste them now.
The bountiful harvest also meant it was canning time. It always seemed to occur during the warmest time of the summer in July and remember, no air conditioners. The glass jars were brought up from the basement, washed and made ready to store the harvest for the winter. Cutting up the string beans required many hands so the whole family was involved washing, cutting the stems off and cutting the beans into one- or two-inch pieces. After the cut beans were packed in the jars, a bit of salt added, cleaned the rim thoroughly, put on the rubber rings, lids screwed and the jars were placed in a big canning kettle. There were two kinds of lids; the Kerr, which was a flat thin metal cap with a rubber seal on the outer edge and a rim type screw on lid. The other was a Mason lid and was sealed with a rubber ring and then the lid was placed on the jar tightly.
The sealed beans were placed in a canning kettle in water and cooked. After a determined time, the jars were removed and allowed to cool. Connie told me they listened for the "snap" that told them the jars were sealed. Many of the other vegetables and fruits were done much the same way.
The local grocery stores in July or early August would get in wooden boxes of fruit; peaches from Colorado and other fruit from where they grew best. Canning these fruits plus cleaning the jars took a lot of time. Naturally with all the steam and hot water it didn't cool the house much. It isn't nice to say a lady sweats but they did perspire a lot.
The ladies in those days, with the help of hired girls, grandmother, grandfather and family pitched in to get the canning time finished. I really didn't get involved much with my mother's canning operation but after we were married Connie taught me a great deal about canning. The jars of vegetables, jellies, jams and pickles were stored in the fruit cellar or room, to be devoured during the cold winter months.
I left out cabbage as that is a different ball game but can testify that Dad and Mother had a great plan so we would have food in the winter. Connie can say the same thing as her mother did lots of canning and she helped. We both had food to eat during The Depression years and, although it wasn't fancy, it was wholesome. Our fruit room was our salvation but it took a good deal of planning and work. In our early years of marriage we continued the practice of canning tomatoes and beans. We were fortunate to be able to freeze vegetables such as corn. For many years our tenant brought over sweet corn which we cooked, cut, packed in plastic bags and froze. Wow! Did that corn taste good in the winter months. We have no space for a garden today but if we did I am sure Connie would be growing vegetables and flowers. Flowers she does grow and they are beautiful.
Connie is my source of information as she was directly involved in the canning of all the preserved garden produce. The other day she prepared some sweet corn and froze it so we could taste some good old Iowa sweet corn in the winter even in Arizona. We are sure many who read this article can go Down Memory Lane.