’Ere the winter storms begin

“Come, ye thankful people come; raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.”

Although the first day of winter doesn’t come for three weeks, the cold winds, snow, and short days tell us otherwise. It feels good to sit by a welcoming fire, keep cozy in our home, and warm ourselves with a homemade bowl of chicken noodle soup. Better yet and more satisfying is if some of the ingredients of our winter meals come from our own garden; the carrots, onions, cabbage, and squash just as the old-time hymn “Come, ye thankful people” says in song.

In “yesterday” times, nearly all homemakers grew a variety of food in backyard gardens and knew how to preserve food for the upcoming winter months. Canning was an ordinary, yet essential skill. Just as the ant in Aesop’s fable, “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” women busily harvested the bounty of summer to be used during the dark days of winter. It was simply provident living. A storm might be raging outside, but all was well inside because of preparation.

While some of us may not have our stores of food for the winter like the industrious ant, it is not too late. We can take stock of what we have, purchase some items and gradually fill up our shelves, and as many gardeners do, take time this winter to plan for next summer. There is a growing health movement. More and more people are looking for more nutritious options for their diets, with organic gardening and farm markets becoming more popular. Before we know it, the seed catalogs will come in the mail.

A nostalgic look into the past from “The Every-Day Cook-Book and Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes” in the early 1890s shows how prevalent food preservation was for the typical homemaker. A chapter on preserves, canned fruits, and jelly has recipes for plums, cherries, pears, peaches, crabapples, gooseberry, black and red current, strawberry, raspberry, quince (bookmarked by my grandmother), apple, wine jelly, marmalade, and even calves’ feet jelly. This last jelly is a “simple affair,” but first you must procure a couple of feet, put them on the fire in three quarts of water and boil for five hours. The same chapter tells how to bottle fresh fruit, and the author notes that this is “very useful in winter.” Part of the process involves gathering the fruit in dry weather, using perfectly dry glass bottles and some nice new soft corks or bungs. A match is burned in each bottle to exhaust the air. If kept in a dry place, the fruit will last for months.

A more contemporary book from 1976 called, “Too Many Tomatoes” tells how more and more people at that time were discovering the joys of gardening and how to harvest and store the great quantities of their crop. Even then, only 30 or so years ago, the author noted that this seemed to have become an obsolete art. The book is full of tips and recipes. Most appealing is the call to “get back to basics” and the “refreshing and awakening experience to participate in one’s own sustenance.” It is not just about health. There is also the emotional satisfaction of taking care of basic needs.

A recent radio show asked callers to identify one thing that makes them happy. One woman said, “The sound my canning jars make when they seal.” There are so many simple and everyday joys in life, one being the satisfaction of reaping the benefits of the work of our hands. Canning and food preservation of course lets us have a taste and memory of the good old days of summer in the middle of the winter.

As expressed in the words of the hymn by H. Alford, 1810-1871, “Come ye thankful people come; raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin. God our maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied. Come to God’s own temple, come; raise the song of harvest home. All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto his praise to yield; wheat and tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown. First the blade, and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.”

Certainly a parallel could be drawn between the provident practice of the harvest to spiritual preparedness. The holiday season which is upon us is certainly a good time to take stock of our spiritual stores to sustain us in the future. Make it a good week by enjoying all this time has to offer.

Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments may be directed to lifestyles@observertoday.com