By Esther North – Gibsons, B.C.
When the roadside trailers of fresh fruit from the Okanagan show up along our Sunshine Coast highway, I’m reminded of mom and dad preserving summer for our long, snowed-in prairie winters.
On those hottest days of the year, the slicing and peeling, snapping and shelling took place in the shade of the abundant Virginia Creeper on the front verandah whilst the blue enamelled canner and washday boiler racks rattled on the kitchen stove as glass jars went in and out of the bubbling water.
Most jars were filled with vegetables from the garden and most days, excepting Sundays and Mondays, the wicker laundry basket overflowed with freshly picked tomatoes to be stewed, corn to be blanched and cut from the cob, green beans and yellow beans to be stringed and snapped, pumpkins and squash, and always more peas to be shelled. Nothing was wasted and nothing withered on the vine!
The cucumber patch was examined daily and ideal sizes picked for dills, others for slicing into jars and bathing in sweet, pungent, complex brines that produced a variety of sweet pickles, mustard pickles, and bread and butter pickles.
We all had our favourites. Mine was the colour as much as the taste and texture of the bite-sized beet pickles made from the early thinnings of seeded rows. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Wooden crates of fruit from the Okanagan were purchased on a limited budget and every peach, pear, and apricot was handled like a jewel. Wild Saskatoon berries and chokecherries were picked with jam tins strung around our necks. The crabapple usually gave a good crop and a delicious fruit or jam with whole cloves.
Our staple was red rhubarb. Let us count the ways you can enjoy and disguise red rhubarb! Cold-pack it for pies and crisps and, with a few figs or wild strawberries and a variety of spices, produced a remarkable variety of jams and chutneys.
Root vegetables were stored in the cool of the cellar and pumpkins were set aside for threshing crew and Fall Supper pies and for candlelit jack-o’-lanterns.
Of course summer wasn’t all bent over garden rows and steaming jars. Nor was it all milking cows, cutting hay, and harvesting the grains. There would be a day’s drive to the salty waters of Lake Waskesiu, picnics with cheers for every swing of a bat, and three-legged races and feasting on mounds of potato and egg salads and ham.
And, when friends from the city arrived, mom and dad were delighted to send them off home with tubs full of fresh garden produce.