When we first moved into this house, we had three children and were just three months from adding number four. We also had a very large backyard. My one uncle called it our Back 40. So we decided we should have a vegetable garden.
We planted lettuce, radishes, carrots, peas, tomatoes, and green beans. My husband, Bill, tended the garden, and I tended the house and the kids. Most of what we harvested we quickly consumed. But as our family grew, so did our garden. As the kids grew older they were more able to help with the garden, and we branched out into all kinds of things, usually suggested by the kids.
Finally one year we had more green beans than we could eat, so I decided it was time to start canning beans for the winter. I had never canned anything, but it seemed like a good economic move for a mother of many to be able to can produce from our own garden.
First I had to buy the cans and lids. My mother-in-law loaned her canner and told me how to do it. She even loaned me her old cookbook.
Next we picked the beans, and I cleaned them. Then I bought more beans because it didn’t seem like we had quite enough, and I cleaned them.
Of course, while I did all that I had to keep one eye on the kids playing in the backyard. Suffice to say that after a long, hot, steamy day, I had a good amount of home-canned green beans when Bill came home from work.
“You canned green beans?” he asked incredulously.
I smiled proudly through my exhaustion and said, “Yes.”
“Why?” he asked. “I don’t like home-canned green beans.”
If I remember correctly he quickly understood he had said the wrong thing, and tried to make it better by adding, “You can feed them to the kids.”
He might remember it differently, but I really don’t remember exploding. What I do remember is going to the grocery later that evening for some necessity and finding a display of canned green beans on sale for 10 cents a can.
After some quick computations, I realized that my home-canned green beans that he didn’t even like cost me a lot more than that even before I figured in my physical and psychological pain, not to mention the time involved. That was pretty much the end of my canning projects. I found it more economical to shop the sales.
When I related this sad tale to a friend who lived in a big city, she told me that her husband never cultivated a garden because he found it made more sensible to cultivate gardeners. For dinner at their house that day we had all kinds of fresh vegetables given to them by friends who had over produced in their gardens.
By then Bill was about gardened out, and we needed more yard space because our kids were growing bigger, and they and their friends from all over the neighborhood needed more room for playing games like baseball and football, so our garden space became extended playground.
There is one other vegetable project I remember. Bill’s dad stopped by our house one day, and in the course of conversation he complained that he was really hungry for some homemade sauerkraut. I told him I didn’t know how to make that.
He told me he knew how to make it, but nobody would let him do it in their house. I immediately told him he could make it right here.
“Well, to be honest, it don’t smell too great when it’s fermenting,” he offered.
I didn’t even know what “fermenting” meant back then, so I told him he could make it in our basement. He did, and boy was he ever happy. As I recall we kept moving it farther and farther back in the basement because it didn’t smell too great. In fact, some days when it’s really humid I think you can still catch a whiff of those fumes.
Then there was the time our oldest son decided to make wine for an eighth grade science project. Ah, but I’ve run out of space. Maybe another time.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate Oct. 7, 2007.