One of the scariest places of my childhood was my grandma’s basement. It was dark, damp, and prone to flooding. Sometimes water would pool inches deep making half of it completely inaccessible. A musty smell hung in the air, the combination of damp stone, old household chemicals, and the outdated magazines piled high in the corner. It was both alluring and terrifying.
But the basement was also where my Grandma stored her canned goods–rows of jars lined the wooden shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling. Beets, pears, green beans, tomatoes, lime pickles, grape juice, blackberry jelly, and applesauce. All waiting patiently in the damp darkness until we’d venture down the nearly vertical steps to retrieve them.
Today, my family’s canned goods sit on shelves in our basement, too; and yet, I have to admit that our basement can’t compete with Grandma’s. Good lighting and a sump pump have stolen all the mystery out of it. And for us, canning is less a necessity and more a choice–a way of life that allows us to tap into our rural roots and live close to the land. For grandma, though, canning was about survival, about preserving summer’s bounty for the dark, scarce days of winter.
I had a chance to reflect on this (and other things) in this piece at Her.meneutics: “When Rural Traditions Get Hipster Cred.” I also got to reminisce a bit more with John Hall and Kathy Emmons on the John & Kathy Show on 101.5 WORD-FM out of Pittsburgh. https://soundcloud.com/john-and-kathy/tuesday-october-28-2014 (Our conversation starts at 14:35.)
In many ways, this piece and the subsequent conversation brought me full circle. I grew up about an hour south of Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands, which is part of the greater Appalachian region. So it’s funny to me that a piece about canning and rural living would snag me a spot on a radio station out the “big city.” But I suppose that’s the way life often works. You spend years trying to find yourself only to discover that you’ve always known who you were–and for me, that means being a country girl whose canned goods sit on shelves in the basement just like grandma’s did.