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.
This next woman displays an impressive cellar of home canned goods. She’s truly a master of her craft!
Cleaning off jars in front of her old-school pressure canner.
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!!
Another proud woman displays the fruits of her labor. (Is anyone else drooling over the storage space all these women have?!)
Preparing for the winter:
A stadium of canned goodness! (And also one of the few photos of non-white women displaying massive pantries).
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.
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.
Nothing goes with canned goods quite like a slab of home-cured meat.
And finally, Mrs Jones and Mrs Dyson, proving its not always about quantity, but quality.
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).
This woman from Arizona proudly displays her award winning preserves. She won prizes at the state fair for each of these items.
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.
A family gathers around one of their pantries (I have a feeling my own pantry is well on the way to looking like this).
A nice picture of a shared moment between two women: Mrs Lewis talks to Miss Maddox about her canned goods
A family goes out to the smokehouse to bring in some preserved goods.
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.
Mommy’s little helper.
A little girl reaching for some canned deliciousness.
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.
And our final kid (little Bobby Willis of North Carolina) is so excited about all the canned goods, he might poop.
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)