Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Victory Garden - or - Of Course I Can!

I've been thinking a lot about canning lately, probably because I've been doing so much of it. I've been canning for about eight years, now, but really seriously canning for the last four. This coincides with the number of years I've been seriously gardening, which is certainly no surprise. Every year, I take gardening and canning activities to a new level. This is not with purpose and intent, it just evolves. It's like gardening and canning are members of the family, growing and changing and maturing with all the rest of us living in this house. I'm never quite sure where it's headed at the beginning of the season. Then, when the season approaches its close, I find myself reflecting and realizing how things have grown, both physically and spiritually.

Today I worked hard to can 36 quarts of apple sauce, and I realized, this has been the season of the Victory Garden.

On canning days, it's always a challenge to make meals, do the dishes, keep up with laundry, teach children, and be an attentive mother, wife, and daughter-in-law. I try to plan for these days, but it's always hard. And it gets me thinking about my grandmother, otherwise known as Mammoo. She passed away eight years ago, so I hope she's watching me from wherever she is, because I learned so much from her. She raised her family on a farm in South Texas, supporting her husband as he farmed cotton. She grew a large garden, composted kitchen scraps in the field before people knew what composting was, took meals to my grandfather, Pappoo, and the cotton-pickers, wore a bonnet to shield her eyes and face from the harsh wind and sun, sewed all my mother's clothes and kept her in fashion model style on a shoe string, traded her abundances with others who had things she needed, hung her laundry on the line, loved her children and husband with all her heart, and prepared delicious home-cooked meals with fresh, garden produce.

Mammoo also canned. Even in her seventies, if she found a good deal on beets, she took all she could and went home and canned them. I know, because I was visiting once when she did exactly that. She didn't let company stop her, she just told us what to do and we all worked on those beets! As it should be.

This summer I dug deep and found determination on canning days. Determination to still hang my laundry on the line, carry out the compost, make meals, eat on dishes (not paper plates), and pay attention to family needs as much as possible. I'm not suggesting I did this without being grumpy by day's end! There have been some really exhausting days during the last few months! It's just that I kept thinking, "Mammoo couldn't run out and buy convenience food on canning days, and she couldn't throw the clothes in the dryer, either." They were far too frugal for paper plates, and the dishes didn't wash themselves. And all these thoughts led me to think about the WWII Victory Gardens.

Families were struggling to support their sons and husbands fighting a war overseas, resources were devoted to the war effort, rationing made many common foods and supplies in scarce supply. Such worrisome and troubled times, yet families rallied, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, planted gardens, harvested their crops, and canned them for the long winter months. And it wasn't just food that was in scarce supply. Even the materials used to make pressure canners had to be devoted to the war effort, namely cast aluminum. I know this for a fact, because I am the lucky owner of the All American Victory Garden Pressure Canner!

Anyone who spends time canning these days knows that All American makes the best pressure canners on the market. They are gasketless, solid, heavy duty cast aluminum, and last for decades, if not forever. Several years ago, when I was getting into canning, I responded to a man on Craig's List who had some canning jars for sale. The man offered me "an old pressure canner" for $10 so I could get going with my pressure canning. Hubbo picked the jars up on his way home from work, along with the canner, and this is what he came home with, original instruction manual and all:

This canner is made of stainless steel, because of the national mandate to devote aluminum manufacturing to the war effort. The canner is aptly named the Victory Garden Pressure Canner and includes an inspirational introduction to the buyers, encouraging their efforts to grow and can home grown foods. It even calls the canner the weapon that will help win the war from home. I could not believe my good fortune, this piece of history that now helps me preserve my food, many decades later, still in great working condition, used by so many others in their efforts, now belongs to me, and I treasure it.

I wanted more information about this piece of history, so I called the manufacturer in Madison, Wisconsin. I asked if they had any information on this piece of equipment, or if they had any interest in having it on display in their showroom. They had nothing. Nobody there knew a single thing about this beauty. Nobody was even remotely interested. I've never seen one on eBay, never heard about them from anyone else.

Yet here it lives, and I use it all season to help me with my food preservation. And I can't help but believe that all the hope and determination of the many hands touching this canner over the years transfers to me every time I touch it. So whenever I feel overwhelmed by my many tasks at hand, whenever people ask me why I spend so much time growing and preserving food in our uncertain world, whenever I doubt myself, and wonder if I can manage canning a big batch, I think to myself, "I can." No, I think, "Of course I can!"

I dedicate this entry to all home-canners: past, present, and future. Of Course You Can!

Just yesterday, a mailing tube arrived, via UPS, with a surprise for me! Hubbo ordered the above "Of Course I Can" poster for me, got a frame, and we are hanging it in my kitchen. I am ecstatic. Can't wait to see it on my wall.

I obtained images of the above posters by googling "Victory Garden" under "images."


  1. You're an inspiration, Suzie!

    I've been canning for quite a while -- taught by a friend probably 20 years ago. I wanted to learn because it was "normal" to preserve natural goodies for winter months. Both of my grandmothers canned, and so did my mom. I use the traditional boiling method for peaches, pears, salsa, green bean pickles and jams. I've done applesauce, too, but I've learned it's just far easier to freeze that. As my family shrinks, I have less need, but it's still fun to do and then to bless others with my goodies.

  2. Thanks, Karen! My mom canned, too, but I don't remember it as much because she came home from work, got us all dinner, put us to bed, and then stayed up til' midnight making pickles! There is nothing like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from preserving your own food, and putting up your own convenience food, as well. And you're right... it's fun to make gifts of relishes and sauces and such. Thanks again for your comment!