Delta Dreaming: The Art of Preserving

If you think you are tough, here is a test you can try. In a month or so, when the truly hot days of summer arrive, built a makeshift shelter with a few pieces of tin for a roof, stand under it midday with a fire going in a metal container a foot or so away, and see how you stand up to it. Oh, and no shade or electric fans are allowed.


That’s what the women of the Delta did in the summers years ago. I, of course refer to the art and drudgery of canning fruits and vegetables. All that many of us know about the process is the never ending abundance of “fruit jars” we see at yard sales out in the country. There is much more.


They say the discovery of canning dates back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. He’s the one, you remember, that said “An army marches on his stomach." So he offered a cash prize for anyone who could come up with an improved apparatus for preserving food. A man named Nicolas Appert won the prize and started a new industry.


By the time of the American Civil War, two-piece lids made air-tight with disposable rubber rings or gaskets set between glass lid and jar were becoming popular. The Mason jar was on its way and air-tight home canning was about to become a domestic institution.


Those of us old enough can remember the "Flexi-Seal Canner," a pressure-canner manufactured by Vischer Products Co., Chicago, Ill, USA, and still in use. The process involves heating and pressurizing contents with enough heat to sterilize and preserve the contents. Some women did the work indoors over a wood stove and under a tin roof, hence the “test.” Others set up an outdoor system.


Whatever the choice, the results were sublime. I remember that my grandmother kept her finished products in a shallow cellar dug under the farmhouse. I would spend an entire day in the presence of Nancy Grace just for one jar of her canned peaches. Well, maybe half a day, but you get the picture.


There was a huge old oak tree in a place on our farm we call “the grove.” (It fell during a storm a few years ago. We counted over 150 rings.) They say civil war soldiers many have camped in the Grove. Politicians used to come and make speeches there. Stragglers in the “Trail of Tears” may have rested there. But in the aftermath of the Great Depression, the tree provided shade for a different purpose.


Those who were around then tell about how the government sent teams out to teach rural women the art of canning. They gathered around that old oak tree, with a well near its base, and learned how to preserve fruits and vegetables for their families. Some passed what they learned on to their children and the art of canning, no longer quite the drudgery with modern climate control, still lives in the Delta. Our taste buds are thankful.



A proud artist in the 1930s. Library of Congress - Farm Security Administration
A proud artist in the 1930s. Library of Congress - Farm Security Administration

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Donna White (Monday, 09 June 2014 17:21)

    Had to share with some West Virginia family... that I know can relate :)

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