By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Summertime in the Parsell household meant dusk to dark playtime, dirty feet from going barefoot, sticky popsicle hands and plenty of bug bites. With shady trees, a long driveway and plenty of yard space, my brother and I spent hours in a make-believe summer haze. Mondays felt like Saturdays in those days. We were creatures of habit, preferring to repeat our days under the sun. A shift in routine came from sudden afternoon storms, a day running errands with mom sorting through coupons in the local grocery store or the arrival of canning season.
We didn’t always have a garden, but mom canned tomatoes and green beans, sometimes peaches, in the summer. We were her helpers, not happy ones either. A hot kitchen didn’t compare to the breezy freedom of a summer day. But our jobs were simple, gather the mason jars from the basement and carry them back in the house to the kitchen. Back inside, I had to wash and dry the jars and separate the rings and seals. Mom’s job was probably the hardest; she had to stand over a hot stove in the middle of the day. This went on for hours and hours. The time ticked by slowly. My only enjoyment was listening for the “pop” on the seal and writing down the date on the lid with a magic marker. Sometimes I added a heart or smiley face to go along with my dates. I even wrote my name on a few jars. I complained a little too much about spending time with my mom in the kitchen, especially during the summer months. I didn’t mind setting the table or making a batch of brownies, but canning seemed like hard labor. It still does, but one worth the effort.
I will never forget the taste of those sweet peaches during the cold months of January and February. One could drink the juice. We ate those peaches on ice cream, in cobblers or straight from the canning jar. Plus, there was something special about eating food preparing in our kitchen, as opposed to coming from a shelf in a grocery store. I simply thought it was cool. There wasn’t a lot of emphasis on whole foods and their origins in the 80s, and even in the 90s. Organic and vegan foods weren’t popular; health organizations and companies didn’t push healthy lifestyles as much as they do today.
I recall seeing a lot of Slim-Fast commercials, combined with aerobic fitness trends when I was a child. Much like the fashion world, the food world shifts and changes, constantly evolving with new diets and workouts. It often repeats itself. Home canning is popular again, based on the rising trend of whole foods. An old-fashioned skill — one passed down from generation to generation in my family — is trendy because of the cost and taste. But good food has always been important; we should have never needed a marketing campaign to persuade Americans to be economical about their food. My mom knew the importance in the 80s, along with her grandmother. Perhaps we should have been listening — not to mention helping — our mothers all along. The hot days of summer, along with the roadside stands of produce and numerous farmer’s markets in the area, remind me of those days in the kitchen.
According to the maker of Jarden Home Brands, which manufactures the classic Ball home-canning Mason jars, home canning is popular for summer 2013. But there is a new spin. Folks are preserving herbs, along with the continuous favorite — tomatoes. The most popular herbs are basil, hives, cilantro and dill. In my house, familiar favorites like green beans, peaches and tomatoes would be the top three picks. But no matter what is inside, someone would still have to carry the jars up from the basement, listen for the “pop” and write the dates on the lid.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit on Twitter @BDTParsell.