This morning I was snapping fresh green beans from the garden to go with our supper tonight. Whenever I do this it always reminds me of time with my Grandfather, and my Aunt when I was growing up. My Aunt grew up on a hard working farm, and my Grandfather did farm work as a young man and adult. Today’s memories got me to thinking about how this time of year would have been for them. While I find it nostalgic to be fixing a few vegetables to go with our dinner, it would have been a much different process for them.
Families certainly had much larger gardens back in the early 1900’s. The food that they wanted to eat for the next year, they had to grow. There was no going to the supermarket to buy potatoes in the middle of January. So when the crops became ready, there was much work to be done. In the case of my green beans, after there were rows and rows of beans picked, they had to be cleaned and snapped, and then the women would work on canning this harvest. No matter how hot or humid out it was, they would cook the beans in large kettles on their stoves for hours. They would have to work with getting all the canning jars cleaned and ready, and prepared to be filled with the green beans. Nobody just went to the store to buy all new jars each year. Then there would be more boiling over the stove to seal the jars up, again no matter how hot out it was. After a few days of going through this whole process for the green beans, they would move onto the next crop that was ready to be done. Whether it was canning up more vegetables, or making the pickles and preserves. Everything that they ate for the entire year was all fixed and prepared in a short amount of time, and placed wherever it was to be stored. That is just amazing to me.
We have grown very custom to the luxury of going to the grocery store on our way home from work to pick up whatever we may need. Looking back at these older times and ways of life however, this was not even an option. If you didn’t have a good crop of a certain vegetable, then you went the year without it. If you didn’t own a cow, you did not have fresh milk on a daily basis, or the cream to make butter with. Similarly, if you did not have chickens, you did not have eggs everyday. We always talk of the “olden” days as being a simpler time, and by many means I believe it was a better time because families took care of each other and stayed together, and neighbors helped neighbors because it was the right thing to do. As far as being simpler, that part I’m not so sure about. The hours of hard work involved in keeping your family fed and prepared for the winter ahead, and I’m sure the worry involved when crops were struggling, does not seem like a “simpler” process to me.
However, along with all the hard, and I’m sure hot, work that was involved with fixing all this food for the upcoming year, there was also a great treasure occurring during this time as well. Members of the family, of all ages, were a part of this process. The younger members would be working beside the older members. Undoubtedly sharing and hearing stories about their grandparent’s past ways of life as well. Everyone would be talking together about life, and learning how to do these important tasks as they did. They were all a part of the work, but they shared it together and built bonds while doing so. To me, that would be the real harvest of harvest time.