Vintage: Preserving Foods

Another excerpt of Sharon Miller's book of family history, Through the Eyes of My Family, on this Throw Back Thursday!



Most farm homes had great gardens because food was a necessity all year round.  All the kids and moms had to work in the garden.  We are not talking a few raised garden boxes with dirt that is virtually free of weeds like we see now, nor were they just an herb garden grown on a window sill and used to highlight the flavor of the foods.  We are talking about a garden that was acres big and rife with weeds. With big families you needed to grow whole fields of potatoes.  First the planting, then the weeding, then the hilling, then weeding again and finally the digging and toting to the root cellar or basement.  If the fall had been rainy, the wet potatoes would rot and they smelled awful.  Even if they were good potatoes, by spring they would have roots coming out of the eyes and were creepy to take out of the bins and of course there were potato beetles…big suckers.

Root Cellars

A root cellar was about 5’x5’ and was usually built into a hill or knoll or built and then covered with sod.  It had a bin for potatoes, another for carrots etc. and all root crops.  The vegetables would still freeze when the weather got real cold so the Stretches enlarged the cellar of the house and kept the vegetables in sand downstairs as the weather got colder.

Picking Berries

Picking berries was a way of life in those days.  Fortunately this area had a plentiful supply of many berries.. Throughout the summer and fall moms and kids picked berries which had a bit of a cycle for ripening. Strawberries, raspberries, saskatoons, blueberries, cranberries, chokecherries and even rose hips were picked and preserved in some way.  Bud Stretch invented a berry picker that was like a can with fork tines that you scooped the berries off with. Good pickers could gently pull of ripe berries leaving the unripe ones to continue ripening for a later picking. Then they had to be cleaned and sorted before preserving.  
Berry patches were often riddled with thistles, roots, stinging nettles and other plants that made things difficult. Blueberries and strawberries were so close to the ground, Saskatoons often grew in ditches and uneven terrain. And there was the ever present danger of meeting bears who were eating the same berries to fatten up for their winter hibernation.


In winter and spring you relied on whatever would last through the winter. Berries and fruit were canned or dried, made into fruit, jam or jelly, even chutney and relishes.   Vegetables were canned.  

Water Bath Canner 

Canning required quite a bit of work. You had to find the jars, sealer rings and lids.  They had to be washed well, then steamed upside down for at least 10 minutes to make them safe to use. 
The canned goods were put into the jars, sometimes sealed with wax, immersed for cooking for various lengths of time . The glass jars created a vacuum seal inside the jar to preserve the food without requiring refrigeration. Inside the canner is a rack so the jars are suspended in the water and not sitting on the bottom of the pot.
Meats were canned, salted or smoked. Canning meats took more time because they needed to be well cooked to prevent food poisoning.  To can meat they used a pressure cooker or pressure canner. They both worked on the same principle. They trapped steam inside a pot and allowed it to build up pressure and create a high moist heat.  There was a tight fitting lid with a rubber seal that locked into position.  The older canners and cookers of the early days had thick walls and tended to be quite heavy.  Canning meat was a necessity to make it last.
Want to read more? This 140 page book on homesteading in North Saskatchewan during the 1930’s and 1940’s through Sharon Miller’s own family’s history includes old recipes and over 234 photos. You can get your copy by emailing $30.00 + shipping in handling.