Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Grandma's Cellar

It's the end of summer and that means canning. What is canning some of you might ask, it's where you take your harvest and bottle it up. Think of it like capturing summer with it's sun and warmth and plenty in a jar so you can eat it in January. Yesterday I did peaches.

Is there a better way to remember summer? I don't think so.

My peaches went from this:

To this:

Anywho, I talked with a friend last night about canning, and we somehow ended up in my grandma's cellar. Not in real life, but in my memories. My grandma had a real cellar, the kind you had to descend into down wobbly stairs, past the cobwebs and into the earth. We're talking the kind of cellar with dirt walls and support pillars crafted out of wood so old it was probably taken from the Arc.

The place was spooky. Things lived in it. Creepy crawly things.

Whenever we visited my grandma I got the job of retrieving bottled green beans, or pickled beats, or the bottled tomato sauce that we called moon juice because it looked like it belonged on the surface of the moon, all cratered and otherworldly until you shook it up.

Can you imagine me as a seven-year-old trembling my way down those stairs into the darkness armed only with a flashlight and a grandma's request? And then there was the smell, tombish and dank. To me it smelled like spiders, and they glared at me from their webs draped across the yellowed foam insulation that connected the cellar to the house like bloated caterpillars. This was were nightmares came to die.

And food did, too. Grandma didn't have new food all fresh and full of sunlight. She'd stopped canning years before when she realized she wouldn't live to eat what she did have.

Grandma had bottled relish from the dawn of time, stacked on shelves cut into the dirt walls and draped in decades of dust. And she ate it. She ate all of the old stuff down there because after living though the great depression she couldn't waste what she had.

I remember sticking my hand into that blanket of dust and cobwebs to pull out green beans so old they'd turned brown, then shuddering my way up to daylight. I was always sure we'd die from eating Grandma's old food. I'd sit at dinner and pray, never touching my beans, just waiting to call 911 when someone killed over from botulism. No one ever did, but I won't eat old beans. Ever.

So, what does this have to do with anything? I don't know, but I do know that my fresh peaches with all their summer warmth don't belong in a cellar. They belong in steaming peach cobbler and pies dripping with homemade ice cream, devoured in front of a cozy fire as snow falls in drifts. You can bottle goodness--just don't put it in my grandma's cellar.


The Stanley's said...

I knew I would wake up to a feast.
Love it!

Nikki Mantyla said...

We had one of those cellars when we'd been married a year or so and were living in a hundred-year-old house-turned-duplex for college students. It wasn't too bad, since it had a small window, but the floor was dirt and one of the walls had a large creepy hole where there used to be stairs to the outside before they blocked that off and made stairs that came through the bathroom instead (funny things happen when you make a house a duplex). Anyhow, loved it for food storage, but I kept that bathroom cellar door bolted at night, sure something creepy would sneak in.

And I totally agree with you. No on brown green beans. I think food should be eaten the winter right after it's bottled. You're preserving the season, not the year!

Jonene Ficklin said...

Ha ha! You have to love those post-depression grandmas! You can tell their bravery and toughness by how they ate their gray-beans. My grandma wasn't that tough. She lived next door, and when her canning got old, she sent it over. I, too, spent more than a few meals shuddering and praying over old, dead vegetables that should have been buried years before. Yet, somehow, I'm still here. Maybe that explains why I am the way I am. : )

Sandy L. Rowland said...

Are you and my husband related? I swear, his mother had a cellar brimming with home caned plenty, transformed by age to the brown you describe.

I refuse to eat the old beans too, and tomatoes. They can knock you for a loop and put you down.

Love the peaches! Great post.

LeishaMaw said...

The Stanley's, I seriously hope you are feasting on something other than beans. LOL.

Nikki, LOVE the preserving the season not the year thing. So awesome. :)

Jonene, so that's why my fam is the way they are. I should have know. Hee hee.

Sandy, yeah, old canning never goes down well. New stuff rocks. Cobbler anyone?

Cherie said...

Smelled like spiders huh? Too bad you didn't get to meet Horace, who met his untimely demise in my vacuum. I actually named him posthumously, in honor of his large size, when I first saw him I mistook him for a bettle.

LeishaMaw said...

Cherie, RIP dear Horace-the-beetle-sized-spider. I love that you named him AFTER you cleaned him. So funny.

Elizabeth said...

Wow, that brought back memories of my grandparents' basement! While not quite so cobwebby or cement-y, it certainly had that dusky, otherworldy feel about it. Your writing is amazing, by the way!

Julie Daines said...

My husband's Grandma had a similar cache of ancient food. When she got old, I secretly went and threw out most of it. Serious health hazard. One time at Thanksgiving she served us Ritz crackers that were about 5 years past the expiration date; they tasted like sawdust. *shudder*

Carolyn V said...

We had an old creepy storage room with tons of old food. I'd only touch the ones that hadn't turned all brown. ;)

Cameron and Amy said...

Just found your blog. I totally remember Grandma's cellar. I remember going down there and Maria and Mark shutting the door and turning off the light. Scared me to death. I still dream of the cellar and the upstairs of Grandma's house sometimes.


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