I always have two memories when I think about summer. One is the fact that I am highly allergic to the sun and all the lovely high humidity coming from living in eastern Tennessee. But the other memory is all the summers growing up in Louisiana where my mother was the undisputed canning queen of the south. If there was a way Mother could stuff a fruit or vegetable into a canning jar she would find it!
At every house we moved into over the years Mother always made sure there was room for a garden. The last house before I moved out on my own boasted a flower garden by the driveway where Mother grew her beloved tulips. But if you looked closely enough you could see the mint, green onion, or dill plants she hid among the flowers. On the other side of the house was a row of potato hills and a large fig tree where Mother would spend hours over the summer harvesting the fruit and freezing the peeled figs sprinkled with sugar so we could have frozen treats throughout the winter.
But it was the back yard where mother communed with Mother Earth the best. I was raised in a home with one small income and six mouths to feed. Back in those days there wasn't the expanded Food Stamp program like you find in the states today so Mother would depend on what was left over from Daddy's paychecks after the bills were paid, a monthly "food pantry" type distribution in the next town thirty miles away, whatever she could barter away from an old man who visited our town once a week with extra produce and any vegetables she could managed to grow at each house we lived in.
Mother's backyard garden had everything from lettuce and tomatoes to beans and cucumbers. Rows of corn stood tall next to cabbage and cauliflower. One year I even remember her growing a row of tall sunflowers along the back fence. I was fascinated by those flowers and watched all summer long as they grew taller than my father with their heads almost touching the ground, so heavy with seeds I was surprised their stalks didn't snap in half from the weight.
I knew the routine. Weed pulling in the morning, harvesting anything that was ready in the afternoon, and canning on the weekends. By the end of summer every spare inch of space in the dining room would be stacked with jars of summer goodness.
My mother was creative when it came to storing those jars. One summer she found someone in the neighborhood getting rid of two old televisions. This was back in the day when the inside of the TVs held one large picture tube and a few other wires. Other people would have simply thrown those broken TVs in the trash and not given it another thought.
Not my mother.
I remember wondering what in the world were we going to do with them, but soon Mother had thrown out the picture tubes, built shelves inside the wooden frames and put curtains on the front of each before stacking them on top of each other in one corner of the dining room. Viola! Instant food pantry! We never had to worry about not having enough to eat during the summer.
This is the time of year when I can walk through my local grocery story and see canning supplies on the shelves just waiting for the summertime harvest. It always makes me smile and remember my mother and how hard she tried to keep her family fed during hard times. What a pioneer spirit she had...