August 13, 2012
Do you remember pressure cookers? I do. They used to scare me to death, but I vividly remember the hiss and hysterical rattle of that little metal thing on top punctuating most of my summers as a kid. You see, my parents were products of a simpler time and the Great Depression. Even in suburban Atlanta, my dad always had a big vegetable garden, and my mother canned (or “put up,” as they used to say) pickles, green beans, corn, applesauce, squash, jams and jellies … you name it, they preserved it. I think my parents were subconsciously always preparing for the possibility of another calamity like the Depression, and they were going to do everything in their power to avoid ever going hungry again if they could help it.
Oddly, I also remember being embarrassed as a young girl that my dad had a vegetable garden. I don’t know why, exactly, except that kids are so darned concerned about what other people think even if the concern is baseless. I think I thought it made us look poor, or rural or something equally as silly. Even so, my dad gardened away and my mother, a professional woman in her own right back in the 60s and early 70s, still knew very well how to can and preserve foods.
Being parents of the era that were not afraid to enlist their children’s help in household chores, my parents expected me and my siblings to snap beans, shuck corn, slice, chop, julienne and pour all summer long. And then came the pressure cooker. I always made a point of finding something else to do in another room when that thing was on the stove, jittering and jiggling like some appliance gone crazy, ready to blow our house to smithereens every time it heated up. I do not have fond memories of canning from my childhood.
Fast forward to 2012, and gardening and canning are not only acceptable; they’re actually in vogue. It’s nutritionally and environmentally responsible to grow and preserve your own fruits and vegetables, which our family has been doing for a few years now. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this afternoon, I plan to chop homegrown tomatoes, peppers and onions to make (and can) some fabulous salsa, a recipe I found a few years back.
I chose this particular recipe because it does not require the use of a pressure cooker. People tell me that today, pressure cookers are so much safer than they were 40 years ago. No one told me they were unsafe when I was a kid; I just put two and two together. Anything that can cook a roast in about 4 minutes flat has to be dangerous.
I must say that I enjoy the gardening, the harvest and the canning and freezing of the fruits of our labors. There’s something very satisfying about the whole process, isn’t there?
By the way, my parents and their friends didn’t toss around the term “canning” very often; they used the phrase “putting up a mess” of (fill in the blank here). They’d “put up a mess” of green beans, or whatever the vegetable of the month was. I can’t bring myself to say that.
Do you and your family garden and preserve the harvest? I think we’re teaching our children something good when we do.
Carole Townsend is also a Gwinnett Daily Post staff correspondent and author of “Southern Fried White Trash.” The book takes a humorous look at families and how we behave when thrown together for weddings, funerals and holidays. She has been quoted on msnbc.com, in the LA Times, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, been featured on FOX 5 News and CNN, and is often a guest on television and radio shows nationwide. She has also travelled throughout the southeast, meeting readers at book signings and speaking publicly at various events. Her next book, “Red Lipstick and Clean Underwear,” is expected on book shelves in Fall 2012.