We stopped at a local farmer’s market the other day. The sweet corn will be in by the end of the week. Just-picked corn is a real treat. The weekly heavy rains hitting my area since April have given mother nature a huge boost. I can’t describe how lush and green it is outside, not that anyone can enjoy it for all the mosquitoes. They like the rain too.
When our kids were young we had two full gardens to help feed the family. Back then, I was fresh off the back-to-the-land bandwagon and self-sufficiency was the goal. To that end, I taught myself to can. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with that first bushel of green beans. I was ready. I had my Ball Canning Guide, my brand new pressure canner and shiny new jars, and all the gadgets that go with food processing. I was both excited and scared. Do it wrong and people could die. I read the guide. I read another. I reread both. I have several old domestic science books. I read those. I was still afraid of poisoning my family with botulism. My husband came home for lunch and found me weepy. I explained the whole toxic green bean thing.
Our rural area’s history is filled with farm families marrying into farm family into farm family. Farm roads long ago took on farm family names and they crisscross the entire county. You don’t have to go far to discover a surprising number of people whose distant ties make them cousins twice or thrice removed. I’ve oft suspected a single family’s reunion would include half the county or more.
Well, at the time, my husband worked with a guy from one of these old farming families. They settled in the area in the 1840s. This guy’s mother came from another pioneer farm family and grew up learning all the farm wife stuff from her mother who learned it from her mother and so on. She knew the self-sufficiency processes inside and out. My husband suggested I call her. I didn’t know her in the least, but I did, and she talked me off the ledge and through my first dozen jars of green beans. Because of her patience, I learned how to can all sorts of things and eventually taught my friends and family too. Season’s end saw 500+ jars of pickles, salsa, beans, and more on the shelves.
Canning is a lot of work but it’s loving work. My husband and I had a double-team strategy where the work was concerned. He handled the bulk of the gardening, and I handled the food processing. Keeping ahead of mother nature isn’t easy, as any farmer will tell you. I remember several times how we frantically dragged every sheet and blanket in the house out to the gardens to cover our precious work when early frosts threatened. Weather was it’s own issue, but the wildlife eventually ended our vegetable gardening. I’ve mentioned before that we live on a hill surrounded by wild. It’s a unique set-up, to say the least.
My home is a place where foxes, turkey, and deer stare at you through the patio door when you pour your morning cup of coffee. Where coyotes and occasional wolf howl in the front yard, and skunks spray you if you’re not careful. It’s also where the odd badger and cougar and yard-long fox snake will scare the bejeezus out of you. When you try to have a garden in the Garden of Eden, every creature and his brother wants your apples. We tried everything to keep the animals from stealing our hard-earned produce. Fences? Didn’t work. Dangling pie pans, ribbons, and bars of soap? Laughable. Husband and son marking territory like dogs? Nope. We even had one scarecrow. Ha. For as long as agriculture has been around, there have been wild animals waiting to take advantage of a great quantity of food in one spot. For thousands of years it’s been us against them.
Got Crows? Call Priapus
When you’re talking crops, you’re talking fertility. And no one personified fertility to the Ancient Greeks like Priapus. He was a minor god best known for his large and permanently erect phallus. They observed first-hand that thieving birds avoided only those fields where Priapus statues had been erected (no pun intended). This practice of a placing a statue in the garden to scare away pests spread with Roman conquest.
I’ve found enough scarecrow information for several future posts, so I’ll just share a little now: Sometime during the Middle Ages, it was believed that certain scarecrows developed special powers such as being able to walk around the garden at night (creepy), or helping the garden to grow. Some were made to look like witches so they would absorb the remnants of winter from the land. These scarecrows were often given a skull for a head to frighten off pestilence as well as pests. Native Americans had their own versions of scarecrows, and that’s a post for another day. European scarecrows eventually made it to America. And we gave them brains.
American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote Feathertop in 1852 — a story about a witch who builds a scarecrow and decides to bring him to life. There’s an obvious moral in there.
Gardens are producing now and it just so happens that July is Build a Scarecrow month. Here’s a how-to~
My 100 things will focus on malapropisms and I’ll stick with it until I can’t find any more. From the French mal a propos (meaning inappropriate). Dictionary.com defines malapropisms as an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.
Here’s one for today:
You lead the way and we’ll precede. Proceed
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I remember those canning days well! I still do some, but mainly just jams, pickles and tomatoes. Thanks for the memories!