There is nothing that will promote family togetherness any more than stringing beans together. This was a ritual practiced by my family when we were small, and we all got to take part in it (babies and toddlers were excused). Picking the beans was a dreaded chore, especially when the sun was blistering hot, but we enjoyed stringing them. The beans were picked the day before, and spread out on a sheet in the living room so they wouldn’t go through a “heat.”
Early the next morning, as soon as the chores were finished, we tackled the mountain of beans. With pans, cookers and assorted gear, we usually moved to the front porch where the cool morning air refreshed us as we worked. Mom would be getting the jars ready and building a fire under the “black” tub. The black tub was a number three wash tub used for heating water for laundry and was permanently black.
She had to can beans in half-gallon jars, cooking them for four hours. Hot water was added as the water boiled down in the tub, and the fire had to be stoked continually. Canning was a monumental task to the women of Mom’s generation, and we have it so much better now. With modern pressure canners, the four-hour procedure is cut down to half an hour or less. Even washing the canning jars is a breeze compared to yesterday’s task. All we do is stick them in the dishwasher, and they come out hot and sterile.
For some reason, old people didn’t wash the canning jars when they emptied them for a meal (but we did.) Instead, they would hang them upside-down on the picket fence and leave them there until canning season rolled around again. You can imagine what a chore it was to wash them by then. Mom used to tell of how they took them down to the bank of Big Laurel Creek and scour them out with sand.
I remember staying with Aunt Addie when our baby sister Susie was born, and she paid me a penny for each jar I washed. She put warm water and soap in a big wash tub set it out in the yard. I could get my hand back in a quart jar then, and I felt rich with each jar I washed. I was 11 years old then, while Cousin Evelyne was a couple of years younger. I do remember how I loved her.
Although canning methods have improved immeasurably, preparation of the food remains the same. We move our gear out under the shade of the big maple tree in the front yard, and always have volunteer help. The little granddaughters, (and great-grands) are adept at stringing beans, and even Hunter at age six is eager to help. Sometimes he breaks them without stringing them, but we can’t fault his enthusiasm.
It is so pleasant in the shade of the maple tree. Along with the hot July days, there has been a cool breeze that makes sitting outside a pleasure. We can hear the twittering of the baby birds high in the tree as the adult birds bring food for their little ones. The banty rooster crows proudly, and the mother hens cluck and keep their babies close to them. High above us a hawk sails through the cloudless, blue sky and the hoarse caw of a crow is heard.
We are so blessed. It seems that God looks down and smiles on the four generations that gather here in our yard and our hearts are filled with gratitude for His blessings. We have a fire ring here in the yard where a small bonfire is lit on cool nights. Lawn chairs circle the fire where the adults relax and talk over the day’s happenings, the weather, and family affairs. The little ones roast marshmallows over the fire, and sometime make S’mores with graham crackers and chocolate candy.
The atmosphere is warm and companionable, full of family love and gentle teasing. I look around at the grandchildren dragging their blackened marshmallows out of the fire and think, “What more could a person want?” We are nestled here in the protecting hills, satisfied with our way of life, and resting in God’s precious promise that “I will never leave nor forsake thee.”
Yes, we are blessed.
We finally received a recipe for “Pear Honey” which was requested by Sue Reeves some time back. It came from an anonymous friend, (she calls herself a “misplaced hillbilly,) along with an interesting letter full of practical household hints. She confides that she was the oldest of nine siblings, and will be 91 on October 1. She writes, “Surely God has been my helper, and Jesus my Savior, all my 90+ years.”
Pare, core, chop and measure hard-ripe pears. (I’d suggest using a grinder.) Add a little water if needed to start cooking. Boil ten minutes. To each quart of chopped pears add 3 cups sugar, juice of one lemon, grated rind of half a lemon, and half-teaspoon of ground ginger. Boil until thick. Pour into hot, sterile canning jars; seal at once.
She adds that back in the 30’s and 40’s we made jams, jellies and preserves out of many fruits to have “spread” to go on our buttered biscuits for our school lunch—toted in a three-pound lard pail. The school was one room, containing eight grades, with a pot-bellied stove in the center. (Thank you, friend, for your good response.)
Beverly Shell has thrown a query at me that I can’t answer. She asks, “What is the word for a meal that is composed of all leftovers?” I hope someone knows. I had a friend that would take all the leftovers in the refrigerator and warm them up, creating a smorgasbord for each member of the family to pick and choose. This was the day before she went to the grocery store, and then she would have room in the refrigerator for a new supply of food.
I need some help. I have “dodder” in my flower beds, and it has about decimated my impatiens. Short of digging up the whole thing and treating the soil, is there anything I can use to get rid of it?
And now here is six year old Daniel’s closing prayer, “And Lord, please don’t let the dinosaurs come and ruin the day,” Amen.
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