If we thought that harvesting, selling and preserving nearly two acres of strawberries was some sort of practical joke related to the start of “school vacation,” imagine how we felt about taking a break from picking berries to spend the afternoon hoeing vegetables until dark.
“Go hoe the sweet corn, while you rest,” or “Run out there and stake 25 ‘mater plants while you ain’t doing nothing else, and make sure you tie them up right. If you cut their circulation off they’ll strangle”.
In other words, any reprieve from picking strawberries throughout the month of June was touted as a fun thing to do and, in fact, anything gardening-related was far more pleasant than picking berries, as far as I was concerned.
Of course the strawberries were essentially gone by the end of June but no sooner had we stopped canning strawberries than it was time to start canning everything else the garden produced. That meant that whatever kraut, pickles, canned apples, tomatoes, vegetable soup, etc., left over from last year’s canning had to be emptied out to make room for this year’s bounty.
Mom would order Mason and/or Ball brand canning lids/caps in lots of 24 dozen at a time. We also bought at least a dozen boxes (12 per box) of the ring and cap combination lids and usually didn’t need more than that because we religiously saved the fastening rings for reuse every time a jar was opened during cold weather. Depending on the menu, that could be six or eight jars every day. The only time I can recall reusing the caps was during kraut making time. Used caps were prone to warping and refusing to seal once they came out of the canner which meant that well over an hour of labor had gone to waste.
We never bothered trying to seal canned kraut. We simply sliced, diced and chopped the cabbage, stuffed it into jars, added a spoonful of salt and another of vinegar, screwed a lid loosely to the top and set the jars aside, someplace away from our living quarters, to ferment for a couple of weeks. The stink of kraut can get to be very unappetizing during that fermentation period and makes a terrible mess until it has finished working. Once the fermentation was finished, we washed the jars and lids off with hot water, snugged the lids back on and stored the jars inside our walk-in canning room.
To this very day, Loretta swears that there is no excuse for anybody on Blair Branch being alive today. The way we made and canned kraut should have been enough to kill every one of us. Suffice to say that we’ve made a lot of kraut on Charlie Brown Road over the years, and every single jar was properly boiled and sealed under my wife’s watchful eye before it graced our table.
Anyway, when canning got into full swing by the end of June, we always had several hundred empty jars stored away and ready for refilling. Mom would take inventory of whatever was still sitting in the pantry and decide what needed to be emptied. If beans still had good color, or maybe blackberries, apple butter or even strawberry jam, those jars would be set aside and eventually brought to the very front of the shelves to be opened whenever it was time to start eating out of cans again.
However, if any kraut, tomatoes, canned apples, cucumber pickles, pickled beets, mixed pickles or even strawberries had survived the past year, it was time to start feeding the hogs and chickens. As far as Mom was concerned, the fruits of our labor were not going to waste; they were simply making bacon or putting eggs on the table.
As far as I was concerned those emptied out strawberry jars were finally being eaten by something that acted like they really liked them. I don’t remember bacon and eggs ever tasting like strawberries unless I got some jam on my biscuit, in which case strawberry jam was better than no jam at all, but just barely.