I love my mum. Really, I would hope everyone does. Even when there’s been issues and falling-outs, I like to think that there’s a shred of love somewhere in your memories. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with a wonderful mum who tries her darnedest to make life for my sister and I the best it possibly could be even when the going got rough. I have so many good memories of my mum but, really, it’s her cooking skills that really come through.
I grew up on a farm and that was also how my mum was raised. Small town hobby beef farm for me, eclectic mix hobby farm for mum. She would tell my sister and I stories of the pigs and chickens that they used to have (which just made us want more than just beef cattle, but that never happened). She would talk about my grandmother’s cooking and how she could remember seeing sausage links floating in lard. Uncured bacon floating in lard. Potatoes cooking in…well you get the picture. My mum jokes that the reason she was so skinny as a kid was because she never at her mother’s cooking. Can’t really blame her there!
Because of the lack of a culinary influence, my mum wasn’t the world’s greatest chef, but she tried. Meals were pretty basic, usually with the same standard ingredients; an endless sea of casseroles. But that was okay. Mum made most meals from scratch or by one of the hundreds of old, tattered cookbooks that sat above the fridge. Tried and true recipes that had her handwriting beside the ones she had tested out with a yummy rating and any tweaks to make my extremely picky sister like it. You can’t buy those recipes. They aren’t on the internet. The only way to get them is to come home for a weekend visit and then maybe mum will give you half of the recipe. The other half requires a phone call on the night you go to make the meal when you realize she left out the cooking instructions and measurements.
Baking was a touch and go subject for her. Her breads were amazing, squares were always addictive, and her pies? Blue-ribbon winners as far as we were concerned. But her cookies. I think she overworked the dough or maybe didn’t let the dough chill enough before being plopped onto the baking sheet. Whatever the flaw in her method, the cookies almost always turned out black. Sometimes they would melt in the oven before getting a chance to bake and then spread thinly over the pan, burning as it flowed. Other times she just plum forgot they were in the oven. So whenever I came home for visits, I had to whip up a batch of shortbread cookies. That was the trade-off for doing my laundry, which I still think was a pretty decent trade.
What my mum could definitely do well was can. Her canned goods were always amazing. Other than this weird mustard relish that she always made (dad loves it, I call it spew relish) I would happily devour anything that came up from the basement. Thoughts of jarred pears and pickled beets cross my mind first. Oh how I loved those pears. Sweet and spiced with clove…it’s memories of these tastes that prompted me to start to learn how to do my own canning. Now, I’m a wee bit behind. You would think that having an experienced canner for a mum would mean I would pick up a few things as I grew up and be pro by the time I left the nest, but that’s not the case. My mum was always worried about my sister and I in the kitchen when we were little. Hot liquids, dozens of glass jars…I can see why she didn’t want little rugrats running around the stove.
But now, it’s my turn to learn.
I live in a teeny tiny apartment. 200 square feet would be generous. I don’t have much room to can or put my canned goodies, but I’m bound and determined to make this work. I’ve talked to my mum about picking up some recipes she’s worked through until they were perfect as well as a recipe from one of her friends that makes the best darn red pepper jelly I have ever introduced to my taste buds. Trial by fire has always been my best learning method, so I’m hoping I remember some bits and pieces of what mum has somewhat taught me about canning. Her golden rule: get into a good book once you’ve put the lid on your last jar. When you’re done with the book for the night, all the lids should’ve popped closed. If not, put that jar in the fridge, we’ll eat that one first.
I can picture mum in the kitchen, the stove fan blaring, steam coming up from every pot, jars covering every available surface, the smell of sugar, salt, and vinegar wafting throughout the house. These are happy memories. So few traditional, everyday tasks are still kept alive. I find canning to be one of them. To me, it’s a symbol of fall coming our way, that the wood furnace should be getting fired up soon, that my mum was willing to put all those hours and care into each and every jar so that we would be able to have fruit and veggies for the winter without picking through the half-spoiled produce at the grocery store. It’s this level of care that I hope to continue on. Who knows, maybe someday down the road when I own a country home and my sweetheart and I have little ones of our own, maybe I’ll be able to give them similar memories and they’ll want to follow in my old-school footsteps.
But that’s a long way away. For now, I need to buy a lot of jars.