Putting Food By – Amish and English Style

Several times during my book talks, I’ve had someone ask what a typical day was like when I was growing up. I can never give a straightforward answer because there isn’t one. It depended upon what season of the year it was, what day of the week, and what needed to be done. I remember vividly that in July we did lots of canning for the winter. This was of course accomplished along with the daily chores of the morning work (making beds, doing breakfast dishes, and sweeping floors) and making three meals a day and doing dishes.

We had a summer canning cycle, usually starting with canning peas in June. We sometimes canned bing cherries around that time, too. They were so good, fresh or canned, and it seemed we could not get enough of them. They were easy to can, too. We’d also canned strawberries and make strawberry jam. Then fairly soon the beans would ripen and we’d can those. The beans were unending, it seemed. Bushels of them were packed into jars and then processed. By the time the jars of beans were cooked for three hours they no longer resembled the fresh beans we’d picked, snapped, and canned. I hated canned string beans with a passion. To this day, I cannot eat canned beans. (Ditto on canned peas.) We’d also pickle cucumbers sometime in July. Mem’s sweet pickles were scrumptious. Sometimes she’d start out with several crocks of pickles soaking in the brine for nine days, and end up with a lot less to can when the time came. I have to admit, I was one of the culprits. I don’t think Mem minded, though she would comment when she canned them that she thought she had lots more.

Soon after beans came time to can corn and tomatoes. Around that time, we’d also get bushels of peaches and pick blackberries to can. Mem would make pickle and corn relish, which would take several kinds of veggies. She was pretty good at planning the garden so these would ripen at the same time. She’d also make vegetable soup and can it. Again, the veggies were pretty overcooked by the time we ate them. I was in my late teens before I liked tomatoes, which was what Mem used for stock for the soup, so I was not a fan of her vegetable soup.

Just as summer would be turning into autumn, we’d get several bushels of pears. We used to spread them out on newspapers on one layer for them to ripen. Each day, we would take the ones that had ripened and can them, until they were all done. Around that time we would pick blackberries and elderberries. In a typical summer, we’d can between 50 and 70 quarts of blackberries. Mem’s  elderberry jelly was to die for, especially on the days she made fresh bread to go with it.

In September and October, we were winding down with the canning, though when Datt worked at an orchard, we used to put up many jars of applesauce. When we still had our apple peeler, Mem used to make the chunky kind, but then after the peeler broke and could not be replaced, we used a food mill. My favorite way to eat the applesauce was when we put a layer of whipped cream over the top of a bowl of it. Perhaps that is why I like mixing my homemade applesauce with vanilla yogurt now.

My life is quite different now than it was then, so I rarely stop from doing all things book and now helping David get his business resurrected to put any food by. Today was an exception. I had bought a box of local strawberries for making jam. Every year I make a supply for the winter, and to give away as gifts. I LOVE strawberry freezer jam, which is something we rarely had when I was growing up. We could only make as much as we could eat without freezing it, which was about one batch per season. Now I have the option of putting up as many jars as can fit into my freezer, so I take advantage of that.

Freezer jam is the kind in which one doesn’t cook the strawberries, which is why it tastes so good. I use the recipe that comes in each box of fruit pectin (I’ve used both Sure-Jell and Ball brands), which is so easy. Wash, stem, and mash the strawberries, add sugar and let sit while you ready the jars, cook the pectin for one minute, then stir into the strawberries and sugar for three minutes, and you are ready to dip it into the jars. It is that simple! I leave mine out overnight, before putting them in the freezer.

Excuse me, but I think I will go have a sample of that strawberry jam. I’m hungry!

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10 thoughts on “Putting Food By – Amish and English Style”

  1. Wow, I’m exhausted just reading about all the canning your Mem did. :) I’m sure it was very rewarding for her to eat the “fruits of her labor”, though.

    The only canning I do is freezer strawberry jam, like you described. I just made a huge batch a few weeks ago. We were getting down to red-alert levels on last year’s stash, so it was time to remedy that. :)

  2. I am trying to learn how to can so that I can do that when/if I ever get a garden of my own. I do not think I will ever get to the point of never having to buy vegetables and I would use a freezer too but I would also like to master this way of preserving food. Jam I already make but I mainly just put it in the fridge and it will last through the winter although the room for other things is a bit low in autumn because of all the cans.

  3. Since so many of us have left the farm generations ago with the onset of supermarkets and city living we forget how much work there was just to put by food for your family. My mom grew up on a farm and I remember her loving her big freezer so she could do freezer corn and green beans. I remember her canning a few things when I was small, but not afterwards. I never learned. I admire your skills!

  4. Your post just goes to show how hard it is to live simply.

    I have always wished I’d paid more attention as a kid when my mom was canning. Her homemade pickles and dilly beans were my favorites. Now I live 900 miles from her so it isn’t as convenient for me to learn, I think I’m just going to have to figure out a way to take it on myself because I sure miss those dilly beans.

    Thankfully she usually made us frozen green beans and peas, canned ones are not nice at all.

  5. I’m with you about canned peas and string beans. Ewwwwww. I love fresh vegetable soup but not so much the canned. Did you can meat? When my parents were going down hill and needed quick and easy meals, I canned roast for them. It was tender and easy to eat and all they had to do was add a vegetable and mashed potatoes or noodles.

    That strawberry refrigerator jam sounds wonderful. I might have to try it with some of my strawberries that I froze. Thanks for the tip.


  6. Sarah, I exhausted myself just writing about it! No one can say the Amish life is “simple.”

    Elin, I know what you mean about growing your own veggies. Here in the Pioneer Valley, there are so many veggie and berry stands, that it almost doesn’t make sense to grow your own. Good for you for striving to grow your own as much as possible. I think as uncertain financial times loom, more and more people will be growing their own food.

    Michelle, I have a friend who makes the dilly beans. If you’d like, I can ask her for her recipe, and send it along. She is not the least bit proprietary, but is more than happy to pass along the skills she has.

    Deanna, I thought I might hit a cord with many people on the canned peas and beans. And BTW, frozen strawberries do not work for the freezer jam, for some reason. They have to be fresh berries. Sorry to say…

    Thanks all for your comments. It is always a pleasure…


    Rita, I think we all can remember our mothers and grandmothers doing more than we did, and as I said above, I think there will be more of a move towards more of growing our own food. Luckily, there is the internet, from which we can still learn these skills.

  7. I mainly try to grow stuff myself for the fun of it and because I find them taster than even the best vegetables in the store. I do enjoy learning skills that are perhaps not necessary in this world but that was once. I do it mainly because I find it fun and interesting but also because I really like to know everything that is behind every preparation step our food goes through.

  8. This is my 4th year attempt at gardening. I’m not very good at it apparently. LOL We don’t have very good soil though and this year I’ve finally built some raised beds. Not sure I’ve done much better with them. *sigh* I got a pressure canner for Christmas but I’m nervous about giving it a go! Of course, I have yet to reap some gardening rewards to try it out!

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