Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Canning Beans With Grandma

When I was in my just-turned-double-digits-but-not-yet-a-teen years, I would spend a couple weeks each summer living with my paternal grandparents.  They had retired and moved from Michigan to Southeastern Ohio, on a two acre plot we referred to as "Grandpa's Farm."

I loved going to Grandpa's Farm.  It wasn't a farm in the sense of owning livestock (although there was a small dairy farm next door), and it wasn't a farm in the sense of growing crops for sale.  Grandpa's Farm was just a chunk of land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a winding road with few other houses around.  To a girl who was pretty much a city kid, Grandpa's two acres seemed like a farm.  Grandpa and Grandma did grow a large garden, which provided the majority of their vegetables each year.  Hence, it was a farm.

These days, I have my own 'farm'.  It does not produce livestock commercially.  It does not produce grain crops (well, I don't grow grain crops on it.  We do rent out a large portion to a local farmer who does grow grain crops on my land.)  What it does, is produce a large portion of the food we eat at this little place here.

This time of year, I am canning beans.  Canning beans always takes me back to those summer weeks down in Ohio at Grandpa's Farm.

The two weeks I spent there each summer always coincided with the annual bean glut in their garden.  Several mornings of each of those two weeks, Grandma and I would go to the garden right after breakfast, and pick beans.  We carried 5-gallon buckets to put the beans in, and we usually had at least one of those buckets filled by the time we'd inspected each row of beans for the ripe ones.

The morning would continue with washing the beans.  Then topping and tailing them (pinching off either end of each bean).  Then, while Grandma readied the canning jars and boiled the water to top them off with, I would snap beans.  If my brother or one of my cousins was there (sometimes I shared my time at Grandpa's Farm with my year-older cousin and my brother went to my aunt and uncle's house to visit our cousin who was a year-younger than my brother), they also did the snapping.  We came up with ways to make the work faster:  if a bean was long enough, we'd weave it through our fingers, down around the knuckles, and make a fist, breaking the bean into sections all at once.  Thinking back, it probably took us longer to wind each bean just so for snapping than it did to break it off one piece at a time.  But we were having fun, and it didn't seem like work to have to snap five gallons of beans.

Once all those beans were snapped, we would pack them into canning jars.  I don't remember Grandma ever using anything other than quart-sized jars for her beans.  When us kids had filled the jars to within an inch of the rim, Grandma would ladle in boiling water and top off each jar with a teaspoon of canning salt.  Then the lids would go on, and she would load the jars into her big pressure canner.

That was when I got to go outside, to the mid-day sun, which felt cooler than the air in the kitchen by then.  Grandma stayed inside, to keep an eye on the canner and make sure the pressure stayed at the correct measurement, until all the jars had been canned.  Right about that time, she would declare that it was hot, and that we all needed a popsicle. We would sit under the ancient spreading arms of the apple tree that grew next to Grandpa and Grandma's trailer, and we would all enjoy a popsicle, or maybe even two, depending on how many were left in the box and how many days us kids had left at Grandpa's Farm.

These are the things I think of these days when I'm canning beans.  And it makes the work go faster and not seem like work, to reminisce about days gone by, about a farm sold out of the family two decades ago, about my grandparents who have also passed on.

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