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She’s Tired of ‘Putting Up’

“Why are we doing this?” Honey asked.

It wasn’t an easy question to answer.

“What” we were doing was easy: shelling lima beans. But I understood her larger question – multiple questions and complaints, really – to be, “Why are we working so hard, and spending so much time putting up the garden, when we can afford to buy all the food we want, and we are so tied down we can hardly go on vacation?”

“Putting up” – the term may not be familiar to you, though you can puzzle out the meaning from context. It’s a country term, a farm term. It means preserving food for later, for the winter.

At this time of year, we eat the garden at almost every meal. Whatever is surplus, we give away, or Honey puts up. It has been a productive year for the garden, and Honey is really, really, tired of putting up.

AS OF LAST FRIDAY, Honey had put up 327 quarts of vegetables, more than half by canning and the rest by freezing.

Her canning included 110 quarts of tomatoes, most as tomato sauce, and 55 quarts of pickles, most dill but some bread and butter pickles, which are sweet. It was a good year for cucumbers. Everyone in the family ate cucumbers until they were sick of them, so Honey put up pickles. The grandsons go crazy for homemade pickles. They can polish off a quart in one sitting.

Honey froze 48 quarts of green beans, 29 quarts of broccoli, and 42 of sweet corn. We still have sweet corn from 2018 in the freezer, so we gave away a lot of the fresh corn.

My wife just finished canning 14 quarts of a new salsa mix (Mrs. Wage’s) and the family is in love with it. A couple of quarts have disappeared already, consumed with those scoop-style tortilla chips.

Fruit is not included in the numbers above. Honey froze quarts of blueberries, canned pears in pints and made pretty little jars of pear jam. Apples and red raspberries are next up.

We have three large freezers loaded with produce from previous years, plus locally raised beef. Honey had to re-sort the contents to make room for the new vegetables, and we still had to beg space in other family freezers.

My purpose in telling you all this is more a confession than a boast. I keep growing it, and Honey keeps putting it up. We can’t stop.

OUR PARENTS GREW UP in the Great Depression, when the ability to grow and preserve their own food kept their families from going hungry, and often fed relatives and neighbors. But it goes back further than that. Our grandparents had farms. They didn’t go the beach in the summer. They grew food, and put up the excess for winter.

I’m not saying they supported themselves entirely with farming. On the small, hardscrabble farms of West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, that was pretty much impossible even in their day. But it was a way of life.

Today, that rural way of life is looking pretty good to people for a lot of reasons. Home gardens and hobby farms are more popular than ever. With the coronavirus panic, a lot of people put in gardens this year and put up as much as they could.

We know that because canning supplies disappeared from store shelves, and freezers have been almost unobtainable. Used freezers are snatched up as soon as offered for sale with no dickering over price, and people trying to buy new ones are told they’ll have to wait until February.

I ASKED MYSELF Honey’s question: “Why do we do this?”

The vegetables we grow and put up ourselves taste great and are healthful. Our children and grandchildren have grown up loving vegetables, and we want them to have plenty. I enjoy giving away the bounty from our garden to our family, friends, neighbors and others.

We put up the surplus because we are frugal by habit and savers at heart. We are like the ant, not the grasshopper.

The garden is a lot of work, but we know how fortunate we are to live on a farm and have the ability to put in a large garden, so it seems right to do it.

I love gardening. I tell the grandsons that “Work is Grandpa’s play,” and it’s true.

But maybe I overdid the garden this year. Honey is tired, so tired, from putting up corn, beans, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, and all the rest. Her fingers were sore from shelling the bushel of lima beans I picked when she asked again, “Really, why are we doing this?”

“So . . . we can have lima beans for supper,” I answered.

(Fred Miller’s new book of 100 stories, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” is available from the website or locally at Connie’s Kitchen, Davis Bros. Pharmacies, Frank’s Pastry, Giant Eagle Calcutta, Green Marble Coffee, Museum of Ceramics, and Pottery City Antique Mall.)

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