In this new era of social distancing, this scene of community from my upcoming book, Silver Moon, put me in mind of canning with family members. Working towards a common goal together is satisfying, but it has been a while since I’ve been a part of a larger group gathering larger than my immediate family group of five.
Set during WWI, Silver Moon paints a picture of life on the frontlines for several male characters, but also what it takes for a community of ladies to weather the war. At this time in history, home canning would have been an important way to preserve the food grown in your own garden. The water-bath method was primarily used as pressure cooking had not made a substantial entrance into home, food preservation yet.
Read about the history of home HERE.
Along with the fresh-baked smell of bread and cookies, the scent of dill, vinegar, and pickling spice reminds me of home and conjures up scenes of community. In these times of distance, when we can’t be a part of a larger group gathering, remembered scenes of community help us pull through. Read on for a glimpse into this homey scene from my book . . .
“Does anyone need more dill?” Natalie held up a large handful of the green pungent herb.
“Me, I think.” Nora Smith raised her hand as she fit her last head of dill in a clean, empty canning jar. A head of dill spread out its florets in a fan-shaped pattern at the bottom of each of the four jars in front of her, save one.
Several of the other women clustered around a group of tables in The Eatery, which Natalie had closed for the occasion, raised their hands.
The Webaashi Bay Women’s Club was hosting their second meeting of the year. Lily had asked Natalie last month about the possibility of hosting a home canning session at The Eatery. Natalie had told Lily she could hardly refuse the woman she called one of her best friends.
Natalie passed out the dill. Once every lady had their jars filled, Lily readied them for the next step.
“Now ladies, I’m sure you’ve noticed the pans of cucumbers in front of you. We are going to have a little competition.” Lily saw several of the women looking a little nervous, but most of them smiled and winked.
A bit of healthy competition will be good for us all, she thought.
“When I say go, pack your scrubbed cucumbers into the jars. Big ‘uns at the bottom. Little ‘uns at the top. Ready?” Lily looked around the room. “Set.”
She saw Mauve mouth the words, “I’m gonna win.”
She just might, Lily realized. Mauve’s skill set in the kitchen leaned toward proficient.
“Go!” Lily shouted.
The bustling of bodies, the squeaking of wet cucumbers against glass, and the good-natured laughs and giggles of the ladies could be heard throughout the group.
Lily had determined whichever lady filled their jars first would win a book on home canning, donated by the town shop, Booksellers: Simon & McMann. It had previously been known as Taylor’s Bookshop, owned by Jeremiah Taylor and his wife.
“What if ya got too many?” Rowena Martel, Job’s wife, complained and held up a couple of stray vegetables. “They ain’t gonna all fit.” Her chocolate-hued hand rested on her outstretched hip as she spoke.
“You might have extras,” Lily said to Rowena and all the women frantically stuffing green cucumbers in their jars. “Just fill your jars to the ridge of the glass. Raise your hand when you’re done.”
She smiled. It only took several minutes for hands to be raised.
Ellie Murray’s hand shot up, but at exactly the same time so did Althea Aimes’s.
Rats, I didn’t think about what I’d do if there was a tie. Lily rolled over her predicament in her mind. How do I decide who gets the book?
Ellie and Althea looked at each other. Ellie tucked a strand of her graying, red hair, which had escaped her bun, behind her ear.
“Wall, don’t really need t’ book now. Give it t’ Althea,” Ellie graciously offered as she continued to smooth down her unruly hair.
“Oh, no. That wouldn’t be fair,” said Althea.
Lily knew Althea liked to stick to the rules. She was the constable’s wife, after all. Lily considered her a sweet woman, with just a smidge of plumpness around her cheeks. Although she hosted a fit figure, Althea had an eternally cherubic face which made her appear heavier than she was.
“We could share the book,” she offered graciously.
Her round, pink cheeks pushed up as she smiled, giving her even more of an angelic look.
“Oh, what a lovely idea,” Lily said.
Whew, she thought, grateful for Althea’s suggestion.
“Ellie, what do you say?”
Ellie nodded. “Fine by me.”
“Well, there you have it, ladies. Our winners are Ellie Murray and Althea Aimes. They’ll be sharing the prize. Congratulations!” Lily clapped and the other ladies did as well. “Now that we have filled our clean jars with clean cucumbers, we must add the brine.”
Natalie came from the back kitchen with a steaming pot of vinegar, water, and pickling salt and spices. She set it down in the middle of the long table on a towel.
She gave the group further instructions. “Now, ladies, take a ladle and fill your jar with brine up to the glass ridge.” Natalie gave an example with an available jar. “Be careful; the solution is hot. Hold your jar with a towel if you need to.”
While she spoke, Renae Waters had come from the back with a pan of hot rubber rings and lids.
“Next, take tongs and place a rubber ring on the lip of the jar, fit the glass lid down and anchor it in place. Now,” Renae held up an example of the lid in each hand, “some jars will have the zinc tops which will screw onto the threaded glass jars. Some will have a rubber gasket attached to the lid and a separate ring. If you don’t know what kind of top you need, just ask.” She looked around. “Any questions?”
“What’s this do-jiggy?” Rosalind Tremblay asked. She was the daughter of Vincent and Mary Tremblay who owned the chandlery and light shop in town.
“That, my dear, is the wire latch that will hold your glass lid in place,” Maude Montreaux pointed out to Rosalind, who stood on her left.
“Ah,” Rosalind moved the wire clamp up and down, “I see.”
Celeste Cota raised her hand. “Are we placing the sealed jars in boiling water, then?”
“Right you are, Celeste,” Lily confirmed and made the announcement to the group. “After your jars are sealed, stack them in a crate, which we will bring back to the kitchen where several large kettles with hot water are ready to receive them.”
“How long d’ey have ta boil?” Rowena asked.
Lily was ready to answer, but Jenay, who stood by Rowena, beat her to it.
“About fifteen minutes.” Jenay smiled at her neighbor. “I’ve been canning things like this for years with my aunt. Did you and your mother do any canning?”
“Yas, done some with my mam, but it’s been quite a while. I ‘as jist little, don’t ‘member all the steps.” Rowena shrugged.
“Well, now you may can them with your daughter,” Jenay suggested as she finished tightening her last lid.
“Yas, that I can.” Rowena flashed a white, toothy smile Jenay’s way.
“Ladies . . .” Lily clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Time to bring the jars back to the kitchen. We need get them in the water as soon as possible.”
“Why’s that now?” Rowena questioned Lily.
Renae jumped in and schooled Rowena. “Sterilization. The heat and the brine will do the job of killing bacteria.”
“Bac-teer-i-a? What’s ‘at?”
“The no-see-ums that will make you sick and spoil the food if they’re not gotten rid of.”
Rowena just widened her eyes, raised her eyebrows, and shook her head with puzzlement.
The ladies all worked together to carry their jars to the kitchen. They took turns canning the pickles, because not all the jars would fit in the flat-bottomed kettles in one batch. It took about an hour for all the pickles to be complete. Everyone pitched in and cleaned up, and at the end of the afternoon each lady took home their canned pickles.
Lily felt exhausted but like she had accomplished something worthwhile. The ladies of the town had learned or refreshed their skills at food preservation, and Lily knew from the chatter and laughter of the afternoon that they had had a pleasant time doing it.
It feels good to make a difference, no matter how small, Lily reflected as she stowed the last jar in her buggy and headed home.
Thank you for reading this post. I look forward to sharing more excerpts from Silver Moon as the date of publication draws nearer. Visit my Instagram profile and click on Silver Moon in the highlights to read more of about the story.