IN my children’s novel, A Long, Long Summer, Jeanne is surprised to discover that her aunt and uncle grow the vegetables which they eat all summer and prepare for the winter.
One mid-July morning, Aunt Belle said, “There are enough peas ready for canning. I’d like you kids to help me.”
“What do we do?” Jeanne asked following Sally out to the woodshed.
“First, we take these buckets and pick peas, and then we shell them.” Sally picked up two clean gray metal pails from a pile on the corner of the woodshed porch, and handed one to Jeanne.
“I’ll be down after I change,” Aunt Belle called as they went out to the back porch and down the knoll behind the house.
The large garden went from the edge of the dirt driveway to the raspberry bushes and the red hen house. Jeanne hoped she wouldn’t have to go in there again.
They passed the green spires of the sweet corn, now grown taller than the day they’d been in the hen house to gather eggs.
“Where are the peas that we have to pick?”
Sally reached down and lifted a plant so the green pods hung down. “We pick all the pods that look kind of fat. Leave the real skinny ones. We get to pick them another day.”
Aunt Belle wore a pair of brown trousers and a large straw hat over her wavy brown hair. “It’s going to be a hot one today,” she said, “and maybe another thunderstorm.” She knelt down and began humming to herself as she worked quickly. She soon passed them with her bucket already half full. Aunt Belle had started on her second row when the girls finished their first. Their pails were full.
“You girls have been out here in the sun long enough. Your faces are red. Go up to the back porch where it’s cool and begin shelling,” Aunt Belle said. “There’s some orange Kool-Aid in the icebox.”
On the porch they found that Aunt Belle had left bowls for the shelled peas and a large basket for the empty pods. They sat on the porch floor with the bowls in their laps, their unshelled peas to one side and the empty basket between them. “Are these bowls big enough for all these peas?” Jeanne asked.
“That’s what I hate about peas. You start out with a lot, but you don’t get much.”
“Mama buys vegetables from a man with an old truck who comes around every Friday, but I’ve never shelled peas before.”
The basket of empty shells piled up quickly, but the bowls filled slowly.
“What will Aunt Belle do with all these peas?”
“We’ll have some for dinner this noon, but she’ll can the rest of them.”
Many people, like Jeanne, have neither grown nor picked their own vegetables. In the store they reject those that aren’t perfectly formed and without blemish. They have no idea what it costs in land, seed and fertilizer, labor and taxes to grow them. Now, with the developing “natural and organic” markets, some people are beginning to understand.
Growing up on a farm, my parents had a large garden where we grew all our own vegetables. Some appeared on the table fresh from picking, but the bigger portion went into jars, which were processed in a canner. Peas, green beans, carrots, beets, corn, Swiss chard and tomatoes all came to the table throughout the winter and until the next growing season began. In addition Dad grew a large patch of potatoes which were aLso stored in the cellar for the winter.