ADVERTISEMENT

When I was little girl, my grandmother always used to sing to me, "I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck!" Of course, at the time, I didn't have the faintest idea what the difference between a bushel and a peck was, as I imagine most average 3-year-olds don't. But the difference between a bushel and a peck (and believe me, there IS a difference) is just the beginning of everything I've learned from my "Granny."

If you were to look in Granny's basement, you would find entire cupboards filled with jars of gleaming fruits, vegetables and soups. This is because every year, without fail, she spends hours and hours of her precious time canning. And I wouldn't miss canning days for the world. As teenagers, our generation is defining the present and nurturing the future, but I consider it my mission not to forget the past. I carry out that mission by accompanying my Granny every year in capturing the delicious flavors of fall and summer in jars, and preserve what is becoming a lost art.

Granny, whose name is Rita E. Francisco, was raised on a small dairy farm in Eden. Her mother Louise had 11 mouths to feed, including her seven children and the hired men. Of course, there were no freezers in that time either, so Granny was met with quite a task. Canning was the obvious solution. Granny says that her mother would can anything that grew: from strawberries, raspberries and cherries to green beans and meat from the local butcher.

"Oh, and I can remember my poor mother canning corn! You had to boil the jars for three hours. And I remember that when she did corn, she always had her flashlight out, making sure there were no bubbles left in the water!" Granny says.

Following her marriage in 1953, Granny began to carry on her mother's tradition. She began canning with what she calls "the basics": peaches, pears and tomatoes. After all, she had a family of her own to feed, and she says that canned goods were convenient because she "could use them all through the winter."

Canning and preserving ran in her family, and she wasn't about to end the ritual. Today, she is 80 years old and hasn't stopped. In addition to working full time, she still cans peaches and tomatoes every year, with an occasional batch of jam, too.

Anybody who has tasted homemade canned fruits will tell you that there is no comparison to store-bought goods. There's an entirely different flavor and texture; you can tell when peaches have been canned by an expert if the fruit is just a little tart but not too sweet and they are tender but not mushy. Opening up a jar of peaches during a dark, desolate February is like opening up a jar of summer, bringing back all its sunshine and vibrant tastes. Although the best way to learn home canning is by experience, we always trust the book "Guide to Home Preserving" (published by Bernardin).

Canning does not actually require much equipment -- mainly, clean jars with no chips, lids, canning rings and quality, ripe fruit. Everything can be used over and over except for the lids and, of course, the fruit!

As we lose more and more members of my grandmother's generation, home preserving is becoming a lost art. Canning is not just about the food but also about the effort and technique that goes into perfecting the final product. And for me, it's about the timeless stories shared, the lessons learned and the memories made.

Teenagers are in perpetual motion, forever experimenting with innovative ideas and blazing new trails. Maybe sometimes y