As a child, fall meant harvest time. My parents grew up in farming families and so it seemed natural to them that we should grow and preserve at least some of our own food.
As our family worked to harvest vegetables from the gardens on our acreage in the country, the farmers around us worked to harvest thousands of Iowa acres of corn and soybeans.
Harvesting meant we’d pick long rows of vegetables after Dad got home from work and spend several hours preparing them for the freezer. Every few days it was time to harvest one vegetable or another. Soon the freezer was filled with pints and quarts of green and yellow vegetables. Potatoes and winter squash, plus a few turnips and rutabagas, filled the wood bin Dad had made. Some years we’d have peanuts too, for boiling on cold winter weekend afternoons. Jars of tomatoes, and sometimes pickles and BBQ sauce, filled metal shelves in the basement laundry room. My uncle would ship us a big bag of pecans in the shell from Georgia. The first step in making Christmas goodies was to shell and clean pecans.
It was hard work, and too many late nights made for hard, sleepy days at school too. It was not work my mother enjoyed doing, but she felt obligated to do it. Dad felt the best part was the memories he re-lived of his own childhood whenever we were ‘putting up’ a vegetable, and the certainty that he was instilling certain values in his children. Embrace hard work. Be thrifty. Take care of yourself. Be responsible. Keep your commitments. Simple and plain can be enough.
Today, my brother in Iowa has a large vegetable garden and he freezes and cans fruits and vegetables for weeks. Here in New Jersey, the Garden State, I grow a few herbs in small pots and the closest I come to harvesting and preserving is making wine.
The values from Dad live on, though, and my brother and I have passed them on to our children, who are now passing them on to their own children.
We may not all plant and harvest food for the table, but we all plant values in our children and see the harvest as they mature into adults.