Estel Stout grew up in southwest Missouri and still resides here. She was raised as a farm girl in a time when it was common for families to have a backyard garden and grow all the produce they ate. While today it’s nothing unusual to make a run to Walmart several times a week, when Estel was growing up, they were lucky to make it to the market once a month.
In Estel’s home, it was a necessity to know how to preserve foods. Canning was the most frequently used method to preserve fruits and vegetables for the harsh winters they endured. As she put it, it was to “make our favorite fruits and veggies available to have during the dead season, winter.” Canning was also more cost effective, the food was healthier for them, and the food was good for a long time. Estel said, “Oh, our foods, they never went bad. Normally, we’d eat them before the year was up, but I’ve heard that canned foods are good for a very, very long time.”
“The whole purpose of canning our foods was to remove anything that would cause the foods to spoil,” Estel said. Canning is a preserving of harvested food so it can be prepared for later consumption. Making and preserving jam was also very popular. Mason jars were used as food containers and would be boiled in hot water to remove bacteria from the glass. The last step was placing the foods in the jars, wiping the rims, and tightly sealing the jars. Estel and all of her siblings knew how to can. Once the foods were canned, Estel would take them to a little building apart from the house, similar to a small shed, but which led to an underground room. This was the perfect storage compartment because it was dry and cool.
Up until around the second World War, canning was a common practice in every household. During this time period, the refrigerator was invented, and it replaced much of the canning. When Estel was asked when modern technology replaced the old method of canning, she answered, “Oh, I think it was about 1945 when we got our first refrigerator. Momma was a little reluctant to do anything differently. She had canned her entire life!” She added, “The community was a little nervous at first, due to the large change, but it soon became a necessity to everyday life.”
Estel was fond of their old ways of preservation, but was welcoming to new, more efficient ways. “Now, I know that my canning was a great method, but I do think that it was a good thing that the refrigerator came around. Canning worked, but a fridge did a much better job,” she said. “I will admit, canning was a great technique, and provided me with lots of memories as a kid, but technology is takin’ over the world! I think that the new methods are a very positive thing for this area.”
To this day, if someone were to walk out to a little shed in my grandmother’s front yard and open the old, weathered door and walk down the crumbling stone steps, they would find a small room full of old jars that she once used to feed a hungry family through winter months.