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Posts Tagged ‘fresh produce’

old fashioned canned food

Once a multi-talented woman, Alzheimer's took away Irene's ability to do any of the things she was so talented at, including canning food.

My mother, as I have mentioned before, was a multi-talented woman.  I doubt there was anything she couldn’t do once she set her mind to it.  I recall as a little girl someone had given us their old couch shortly after she and Dad moved the family to San Francisco in the middle of The Great Depression.  You might say the springs of its life had sprung.  Not only the springs in the foundation, but the springs in the three cushions bulged in every which direction – no foam rubber back then.  For a family who was without a couch, however, it was better than no couch, but its sorry-looking condition didn’t last long.

She went to the library and found herself a book about upholstery.  Little by little she tore the whole thing apart, bought some twine, fabric and several boxes of carpet tacks.  Following directions from the book it was only a few weeks before she had all of the springs retied, cushions and sofa sewed and/or tacked in place with a new fabric. Abracadabra!  We had a “new” chesterfield, as a sofa was often referred to way back then.  That’s just a sampling of all the things she continually did to make our rented “flat” a home.

In the kitchen she bottled a goodly supply of fruit, made jam and stored staples to make sure we would always have something to eat during an emergency, such as my dad being without work.  Mama also read books on nutrition.  A well-balanced meal with the necessary food groups became part of the way she cooked and served my father and her three growing daughters.  She had saved her spare nickels and dimes to purchase a set of waterless cookware to preserve each vitamin found in the food she bought.  Every so often we pleaded for fried potatoes like Aunt Esther made, but Mama was firm in her knowledge that potatoes cooked with the skins – and steamed — in three tablespoons of water were better for us that those occasional greasy fried potatoes at Aunt Esther’s house.   I know we didn’t appreciate her chosen, healthy lifestyle, but I’m also certain we were the beneficiaries of her good, nourishing meals.

Life, though, wasn’t all steamed potatoes and veggies, she made delicious bread and the very best Parker House rolls in the world.  No matter how hard we girls tried as adults nothing we made compared to them.  With no convenience foods and no boxed cake mixes, any desserts Mama made were from scratch.  Furthermore, the fruit from the jars in the dead of winter was a treat in itself.  So was the jam, especially when spread on one of the Parker House rolls.

Even though we resisted, my sisters and I grew up knowing what was nutritious and what wasn’t.  Who could have believed grocery markets of the future would be flooded with everything one might want packed into a box with more vitamins in the cardboard than in the food inside.  With her example before us and our acquired knowledge of nutrition, we three girls continued with most of her ways when we married and began our families, keeping in mind, always, what was good for us and what wasn’t – perhaps allowing our children a little exposure to what is commonly known as junk food.

When she and dad left San Francisco and retired to “The Little Farm” in Sonoma County, she continued with her healthy lifestyle.  Planting additional fruit trees and a vegetable garden, my mother fashioned them after what she had known in her youth and young adulthood. Back then, everything was organic, grown in nature’s own way, but no one had put a name on it.  Her modern-day garden was cared for in the same way long before it became the popular thing to do and had a special name, and summer visits from Mom and Dad always included a few buckets filled with fresh-from-the-garden produce.

They had a wonderful 20-plus years of retirement before we realized she was becoming mentally ill, and my father  recognized the need to move closer to us.  “She just doesn’t do much of anything anymore,” he sadly explained, adding that he was having problems with his own health. A few years prior she had forgotten about the fruit trees, overgrown bushes and her garden, spending her time reading, something which had always been one of her great pleasures.  It appeared she had lost all motivation in continuing with so many of the other joys where she had been so capable.  I visited one day while she was still making an effort to do some of her favorite things.  On the work table in her sewing room I found a small platform rocking chair.  She had managed to remove the old covering getting it down to the bare frame.  I commented about her work and asked to see the new fabric she was planning to use, hoping to spark an interest.  Dismally, she asked if I would take it home.  “I don’t know how to do this anymore.” she stated.  “Can you finish it?   Being my mother’s daughter, I could, and I did, covering it with a pale blue fabric dotted with small pink flowers.  It was perfect next to our fireplace.

When they were ready to move I spent a week with them packing.  My niece, Dee, who lived in the area, came to help.   Stimulated by our activity, Mama bustled around with a bit of excitement much like her old self.  She supervised in her own way and actually made a few good decisions about what we should pack and what we could toss.  I was pleased with her participation.

When meal time approached Mama said she would prepare dinner for us if we wanted to keep on working.  Dee and I agreed and she scurried off to the kitchen.  Several minutes later she returned with a spoon filled with cooked ground beef for us to taste.  “What else do you think this needs?” she asked.  We both took a taste as Mama looked on.  Had I not know the ground beef was fresh I believe I would have declined dinner.  Neither Dee nor I could figure out what she had added to make it taste so awful. In response to her question I suggested, “Tomato sauce, add a can of tomato sauce.”  “Maybe a bit more salt,” advised Dee.  Off she went, back to the kitchen.  Dee and I looked at one another as she asked, “How can anyone make hamburger taste so bad?”

It wasn’t long before she called us to dinner.  Dad wolfed it down with no comment.  Perhaps he was getting used to her loss in creating quality cuisine.  Dee and I stared at our plates filled with non-descript food.  Looking around, we spotted a few empty cans and some trimmings from vegetables, so we felt assured dinner wasn’t going to do us in.  Good, it was not, but we muddled through.  Besides, we were hungry.

Alzheimer’s does that to people.  No matter how capable Mama had been, AD was taking it all away.  Over the next year or so her decline picked up speed, and when my father no longer could identify his food he took over the cooking.  “I’ve done it before and I can do it again,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner.  Eventually, it became necessary to hire a caregiver to be with them for the remainder of their lives.  Besides caring for Mama and her child-like ways, Jayne also did the cooking.

I think often of Mama and the example she set, of the security we felt during the dark times of the Depression as she made sure there was food in her larder for us and comforts in our home.  Perhaps it wasn’t what we thought we wanted, and at times it probably lacked in abundance, but we felt secure.  We weren’t really aware of their struggle – only in retrospect did we grasp the fear and uncertainty they must have felt.  With adult understanding, we were – and are — filled with the utmost admiration.

I am grateful so much of her has stayed with me.  I know that when I pull out my jars, lids and cold-pack canner as the apricots ripen on our tree or when I stir a kettle filled with bubbling applesauce, Mama is not far away – watching and pleased that her daughters have learned about being self-reliant, about making do with what we have, or doing without.

There seems to be an ebb and flow with economics in this life which, at times, renders us to be more frugal than we might want to be.  No one knew better than Mama how to deal with difficult times, and she handed that legacy down to her three girls. Recently, I have noticed the small, blue platform rocker next to my fireplace is getting rather shabby.  Years have slipped by since I brought the bare frame home at Mama’s request.  Perhaps instead of replacing it, though, I think I’ll just recover it – again — using the knowledge and skills that I not only inherited — but observed and learned from my wise and talented mother.

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