Memories of a Food Mill

Just the other day I decided to make a recipe I found online for Caramel Apple Jam (the recipe can be found here).  So I went to my Farmer’s Market and found a wide variety of apples.  All the vendors have their samples to taste, so you can make a lunch of all those juicy beauties.

The recipe calls for you to boil the apples (with skins on) and then put them through a food mill to make your applesauce.  As soon as I read this I knew just the thing I would use: my old food mill with the hooks on the bottom (to hold on the bowl) and the handle you turn to crush the fruit.  I got excited about seeing this mill since I haven’t used it for quite a while.

As soon as I thought about the mill I was brought back to my childhood, standing next to  Mom or Grandma, crushing the tomatoes to make a spaghetti sauce for Sunday meal.  I remember turning the handle back and forth to make sure I did a good job.  The memories flooded back, and I have to admit a few tears were shed.  I can’t count the amount of times this has happened to me.  I do think that it’s an age thing.  The older we get, the more we crave the comfort of things we had as children.

Then came the bad part.  After looking high and low for my food mill, I couldn’t find it!  Looking through the few boxes I still didn’t unpack (no judging, it’s only been 3 years!), I came to the realization that I must have gotten rid of it before I moved.  How could I have done that!  I went to 4 stores and, of course, no one had one.  I guess I could find one online, but I want my old one, full of memories.  But I guess at least I can still reach back and keep those memories close to my heart.

Anyway, in the end the jam came out great! And the color on the jam is absolutely gorgeous. I did add extra vanilla and of course, extra rum.  Holidays are coming and we must be jolly. Right???
– Stephanie

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A nod to our past

Since the title of our blog is “Preservin’ the Past,” we thought it was only appropriate to acknowledge the history of “puttin’ up” in our first post.  Canning and home-preservation have incredibly deep roots, and it was only in recent history that this practice died off a bit (before the current canning rennaissance, of course).

Rather than bore you all with some drawn-out lecture on the history of canning (and god knows I love a good lecture, being a professor and all), I opted to let pictures do the talking for me.  I stumbled across these images of women and their pantries in the Library of Congress collections, while looking for some resources for class.  I found them to be incredibly fascinating; not to mention awe-inspiring (how do they find the time to put up so much in a single season??)

These pictures make one thing incredibly clear: whether you’re preserving now, or a hundred years ago, preservation is as much about practicality as it is about passing on tradition and building bonds between people. So here’s to passing on tradition, and strengthening our sense of community across the ages.

A word on the photos: Many of these photos come from the US Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  In the wake of the Great Depression, and facing another world war, many families relied on things like canning to keep them afloat during tough times.  So while it may seem a little weird to see so many photos of canning, and of women proudly showing off their canning cellars, these photos were undoubtably great tools to showcase themes of nationalism, thrift, and self-reliance.

First, a look at women proudly displaying their fully-stocked pantries:

A woman checks her recent batch of canned goods.

Lancaster County, Nebraska, 1938. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-008657-D)

This next woman displays an impressive cellar of home canned goods.  She’s truly a master of her craft!

Saline County, Ill., 1939. (A. Rothstein, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-027066-D)

 Cleaning off jars in front of her old-school pressure canner.

Lancaster County, Nebraska, 1938. (J. Vachon, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-008660-D)

This is one of the few photos that gives us a name to go with the face.  Meet Mrs. Wilfgang, who canned over 500(!) quarts of goods in a single year. If only I had a quarter of that space!!

"Mrs. Fred Wilfang with some of the 500 quarts of canned goods she has put up this year." Black Hawk County, Iowa, 1939. (A. Rothstein. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-028974-D)

 Another proud woman displays the fruits of her labor. (Is anyone else drooling over the storage space all these women have?!)

Orange County, Vermont, 1939. (R. Lee. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-034323-D)

Preparing for the winter:

"Before winter sets in, Mormon families are well supplied with canned goods and flour." Santa Clara, Utah, Oct. 1940. (R. Lee; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-037884-D).

A stadium of canned goodness! (And also one of the few photos of non-white women displaying massive pantries).

Canned goods made by Doc and Julia Miller, Negro FSA Clients. Penfield, Georgia, 1941. (J. Delano, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-046256-D)

And Mrs Gus Wright shows off her hard work.  This photo certainly suggests that canning was a viable option for everyone, regardless of your social class.

Oakland Community, Greene County, Georgia. Oct 1941. (J. Delano, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-046290-D)

Mrs. Buck Grant – I love the expression on her face.  She’s trying to hold that smile back, but you can tell just how proud she is to be showing off her goods.

Near Woodville, Georgia. 1941. (J. Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-046439-D)

Nothing goes with canned goods quite like a slab of home-cured meat.

“Mrs. Missouri Thomas in her smokehouse showing canned goods and cured meat. Flint River Farms, Georgia, May 1939. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 051629-D)

And finally, Mrs Jones and Mrs Dyson, proving its not always about quantity, but quality.

Mrs. Jones. Zebulon, North Carolina. 1942. (A. Rothstein. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000419-D)

Mrs. Dyson. Saint Mary's County, Maryland. Sept 1940. (J. Vachon, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-061361-D)

Next, sharing canned goods with the world: canned goods and fairs.

Home preservation wasn’t just about keeping your family fed.  It was also a way to supplement your income (and potentially earn you some bragging rights).

"Old lady who has resided in Gonzales County for over eighty years. She has handwork and canned goods exhibited in the fair." Gonzales, Texas, 1939. (R. Lee, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-034584-D)

This woman from Arizona proudly displays her award winning preserves.  She won prizes at the state fair for each of these items.

Pinal County, Arizona, 1940. (R. Lee. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-036367-D)

And my personal favorite: canning, family, and friends.

A woman uses leftovers from her winter storage, while her son plays with an empty mason jar under the table.

"Mrs L. Smith still has some canned goods left over from winter." Carroll County, Georgia, April 1941 (J. Delano, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-043860-D )

A family gathers around one of their pantries (I have a feeling my own pantry is well on the way to looking like this).

"George Ward and his wife and one of his five children with some of their canned goods." Meadow Crest, Greene County, Georgia, 1941. (J. Delano,Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-046381-D)

A nice picture of a shared moment between two women: Mrs Lewis talks to Miss Maddox about her canned goods

Coffee County, Alabama, 1939. (M.P. Wocott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-051393-D)

A family goes out to the smokehouse to bring in some preserved goods.

Summerton, South Carolina, June 1939. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-051924-D)

This is one of my favorite pictures.  I can only imagine what sorts of canning secrets (or family gossip) are being passed between the generations.

Wife of Frederick Oliver. Summerton, South Carolina, June 1939. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-051925-D)

Mommy’s little helper.

Mrs. Harvey Renninger and son. Waterloo, Nebraska. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-059456-D)

A little girl reaching for some canned deliciousness.

Daughter of Cube Walter. Belzoni, Mississippi. Sept 1939. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-052321-D

I love how hard he’s concentrating.  You know he’s being careful with those jars because his mama will whoop his behind if he drops them.

Thomastown, Louisianna. June 1940. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-054130-D)

And our final kid (little Bobby Willis of North Carolina) is so excited about all the canned goods, he might poop.

Yanceyville, North Carolina. May 1940. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF346-056228)

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into home preservation history (and hopefully down the line, I can diversify this collection a bit with pictures from other eras)

-Jess