Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Only Antique I Own

 Gram and my 2 goofy sisters at her apartment
My Grandma Ashe lived simply.  She took meticulous care of her apartment and her few household items.  She did not know the word clutter.  She never owned anything valuable except her tiny engagement ring.  She used and re-used simple items such as bits of string, or rubber bands from the daily newspaper.  She never returned items to the store—she once said, “First of all, if I didn’t want it I wouldn’t buy it.  And if I bought it and didn’t like it, I’d live with it.”  To my knowledge she never drove a car in her life.  In her late 70s she was hired to collect the rents for her apartment building, a task that fit perfectly with her innate accounting skills.

I am the proud owner of Gram’s 1931 Ball Blue Book (for canning).  It's not in bad condition for an 80-year old glorified pamphlet.  Considering that this book would have been spread out on her counter in reach of splashing water and sticky sugar syrup, it’s a miracle it survived, but Gram took careful care of everything, even a cheap paper canning guide.
 It’s both fun and frightening to look through the recipes in the book.  If you know anything about canning, you would know there are serious risks in canning vegetables—namely, deadly botulism—because of their low acid content.  They must be processed in a pressure canner (as opposed to a water bath which is adequate for fruits) at very specific pounds of pressure and lengths of time.  Yet even though they had pressure canners, on page 21 I find that in 1931 corn could be processed in a water bath for 3 hours!  Or beets for 2 hours.  There must be statistics on how many people died of home-grown botulism in the 30s.

On the fun side, did you know you could can frog legs?  Mmm-mmm!  The directions are right here on page 28.  Or fish roe, clams, and oysters?  How about rabbit?  Or pigeons?  Both  of those are processed same as chicken.  Brains, heart, and kidneys all take 3 hours in a water bath or 90 minutes in a pressure cooker.  And for the thriftiest among us, there are recipes for canning turkey bone soup, carrot ketchup, and "emergency pickles" (no cucumbers involved). 
 For us home canning is a practice we can adopt if we like, but for my grandparents, it was a necessity.  And Gram's canning book will always remind me of her thrift and "live simple" philosophy.


  1. Whatever that THING is in the last picture...I don't want to eat any of it.

    How can you make pickles without cucumbers?

  2. Are they using peas for pickles? It's interesting to see what people eat. I can't imagine going to the cellar only to find the last jar of canned frog legs from last season's frog hunt!

    We juice a lot of carrots so I often buy 30 lbs. at a time and people ask if we have horses when they see my buggy. How cool would it be to say I am making carrot ketchup instead?

    Thanks for sharing. What a nifty book!

  3. That THING in the last picture is your vegetables encased in gelatin! Can you believe there was a time when trapping perfectly good foods in gelatin was considered appetizing?

    Emergency pickles were made of carrots, onions, green beans, peppers, using the same spices you would use if pickling cukes.

    Susanne, this canning book has recipes for pickled everything. It is a nifty book all right. The recipe for canned frog legs requires them to be cooked first. The recipe for fried chicken says to fry it first, then can it. Sounds gross doesn't it? I mean, the appeal of fried chicken is its fresh crispness, which would be gone after it sat in water.