As I took a bite of the defrosted strawberry and its distinctive flavor melted on my tongue, memories of visits to Mema’s house came flooding back. As a child of the Great Depression, preserving food was second nature to her. Endless containers of fruit and vegetables packed her deep freeze. One of those foods was frozen strawberries.
I learned how to freeze my strawberries differently than Mema did. I instinctively turned to Google and Pinterest for methods of preserving the bounty of my berry patch. Reading methods from a variety of bloggers, I decided to make a simple syrup. Then I poured it over the fresh cut berries and popped them into my own deep freeze. Whether that’s how Mema did it, I don’t know.
How I wish I had Mema’s recipes and her knowledge of preserving food from an era when it was a necessity. But we didn’t visit enough for me to learn, and I don’t recall her taking time to teach me.
My mom, by her own admission, wasn’t a cook. She did can tomatoes in the heat of August — and made the kitchen smell putrid in my opinion — but this was out of character for her. A child of women’s liberation, she was the first of her family to graduate high school and even procured a master’s degree. She was a working mom, the best in her field, and I am who I am in part because of her. My success in college and my career can be attributed to her passionate, excellent work ethic.
But as many women of my generation are learning the hard way, it really isn’t possible to have it all, and learning culinary and food preservation skills was something I didn’t learn from my mom’s hand. When I became a stay-at-home mom after a decade in the workforce, and began gardening and preserving my own food, I literally had no first-hand knowledge.
When my tomatoes began coming in, and I set out to make spaghetti sauce, I piecemealed some recipes I had found online. It tasted great, but I struggled with knowing how long to simmer the sauce. It never seemed to thicken well, and eventually I just canned the runny concoction anyway. In hindsight, I learned I needed to simmer the sauce much longer to avoid opening a runny mess in the middle of January.
And then there was the time I couldn’t get strawberry jam to gel. After much frustration in trial and error from canning two batches, I finally achieved perfect no-pectin strawberry jam.
Learning curves are inevitable in taking on new tasks. I get that. But how I could have used face-to-face instruction by Mema.
This is why I invite my children in the garden and kitchen with me anytime I begin canning. Alyssa, 5, is more of a willing participant than Drew, 9, but each of them is gaining knowledge of some of the most basic elements of life — elements that have lost their importance in the past half century.
And the truth is, knowing how to produce one’s own food and preserve it may be more of a necessity for our children’s adulthoods than it has been for ours. Many experts are concerned that modern agricultural practices are simply not sustainable. Drought conditions and the depletion of aquifers could dramatically cut water supply to major crops we depend on. Plus, from a health standpoint, studies show that modern produce contains as much as 1/3 less nutrients than it did 60 years ago. Homegrown produce contains more of the nutrients our bodies need. For these reasons, I want to equip my children to grow and preserve their own food should the need arise.
But even if none of those fears come to pass, and I hope they don’t, my children are gaining memories of working alongside their mom in the garden and in the kitchen. That might be the best part of all.
I’m grateful for Google and Pinterest and blogs, but the best technology can’t replace learning at the side of one who loves you.
When my children taste a bite of defrosted strawberry, I want them to be flooded with memories of their mom passing down the family recipes and traditions. And I hope they in turn pass it to their children and beyond.
Because in my mind, Grandma always trumps Google.