Yes, We Can…

…Forget politics for a bit….AND auto racing….and savor the Harvest…

Autumn is coming!!!  Cool, crisp air….leaves turning….sweaters  coming out of storage…back to school…flannel shirts…bonfires…
and of course….
All across the US, the State Fairs have once again been hastily assembled, where they will provide an end-of-summer, last thrill-ride for a week or so, and then they will disappear overnight…along with the hot sweltering days and the smell of funnel cakes to be replaced with reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic….

Cotton candy and candied apples, not to mention popcorn, corn dogs and pork-chop-on-a-stick will be consumed in mass quantities…in some states the ever popular ‘demolition derbies’ will bring the crowds to their feet with a roar to match the last growl of  300 horsepower engines as they crash their way to their final resting places, crushed and cubed as scrap.

I would assume, in most states cattle will be judged… along with sunflowers, roses and pumpkins and pies.

And, the blue ribbon will commemorate the results of long passed-down recipes for canning peaches and tomatoes…

pickles and relish…jellies and jams…

The beautiful produce reminds me of the days when my grandmother and mom and however many sisters would join in, would ‘can’ tomatoes, peaches, beans,  and my grandmother’s never-to-be-beaten dill pickles.

I searched Google for the history of canning food and found that, with a rather large cash prize from the French military as incentive, Nicholas Appert is credited with discovering that food sealed in glass bottles under extreme heat was the most effective method for preserving food for the Army as they embarked on various campaigns. This was in 1795.  It endures today.

Then Peter Durand, patented the tin can in 1810.(Actually, tin-plated wrought-iron) The irony, pardon the pun, of this is that the can opener was not patented until 1848.
The instructions on a can,…. “Cut round on the top near to the outer edge with a chisel and hammer”.  I believe the ravenous fighting forces sometimes just used a bayonet or a rock….!

Apparently, in those days, a good worker could produce 4 cans per day.  Now, I think automation has it up to about 400 cans per minute….!!!

With the advent and popularity of frozen food, I’m afraid those canning ‘parties’ are more of a wistful memory than they are a Norman Rockwell harvest standard.  They, like the ‘quilting bee’, were as much a time for social gathering as for work.  Sadly, they have been all but replaced by Facebook and cell phones.  I’m certain that in some farming communities and in homes where the effort is considered worth the results, you might still hear the words, “Hop down in the cellar and bring back a jar of beans and a couple of onions”, or, “Go to the spring house and get a slab of butter” instead of “Run to Kroger and get a can of chili!… And some margarine.”

Food is a common thread in all cultures for the simple reason that…well,…we have to have it.  The difference in these cultural divides is that every geographical location is home to different staples and spices.  I’m sure this is an extremely simplified anthropological statement but, I think many cultures have been somewhat shaped by the food that is readily available to that culture, and then expanded by the ability to acquire those food-stuffs that were previously unknown….considered exotic.    I have read that King Henry VI was fond of the spice mace when it was first brought to England along with nutmeg.  (Mace is the hairy fronds that grow on the outside of a nutmeg ‘nut’.)  Not knowing the botanical properties of each, he reportedly proclaimed that “We need to grow more mace and less of that nutmeg!” In the Fourteenth century, half a kilogram of nutmeg was the same price as 3 sheep or a cow…but it was hard to fit the sheep into a spice rack…!!

And, of course, almost every misunderstood, new, and exotic spice and vegetable’s  first and foremost claim was that it was an aphrodisiac….

I recently found an article in the July 2011 National Geographic that dealt with the disappearance of many vegetables in the name of yield and heartiness, and the effort to preserve a largely vanishing variety of vegetables.  Taste is often sacrificed in the name of uniformity.  Maybe that’s why I was so intrigued with these examples.  Every tomato, every pepper, every squash had a unique, natural look and for some reason that look alone makes them more appealing, so unlike the ‘hot-house’ tomatoes that are on the standard grocer’s shelf .

( BTW, if you can’t find this particular issue of National Geographic in a hospital waiting room, as I did, you might try here…)

The NatGeo article describes the number of varieties that were available a century ago compared to now. For instance, a hundred years ago there were known to be 487 varieties of lettuce and by 1983 there were 36.  Beets…one of my favorites…were represented by 288 strains.  Now…17.

I always appreciate, and pay dearly for, a meal that includes some of the more rare varieties of produce.  (There are still thousands of varieties of potato grown in the Andes.  These people have taken it upon themselves to preserve flavor over uniformity and to work with the climate instead of trying to create it. If you find yourself in Peru, how about sending me a box of ‘Sacred Mountains’, ‘Makes-the-daughter-in-law-cry’, or ‘Ashes of the soul’)

The article also tells of the seed banks around the world that are working to revitalize some of the endangered species of vegetables and fruits…preserving, if you will, flavors that are all but lost.

I know that I’ll probably never grow nutmeg in my back yard or on a roof-top garden, but I can certainly grow and enjoy ‘heirloom’ tomatoes, or purple squash… amongst other tasty fare.  And, the effort of planting and nurturing and then picking a nice ripe tomato just before dinner, somehow seems to add just that much more flavor.

~ by rkpowers on September 11, 2012.

5 Responses to “Yes, We Can…”

  1. Love these photos, and the article
    ! The colors are outstanding!


  2. thanks for the reminder and the interesting facts…oh yeah, beautiful photographs…your words are in danger of overpowering your images…and that’s saying a lot!


  3. Your comments about State fairs are intriguing… don’t forget; however, the County fairs. There, you still find over-looked Americana. The Humphreys County fair has just ended and the Houston County (my home place) fair is now underway. The competition between age old rivals for “Best of Fair” in many categories (pickling, relishes, pies, jams, quilting and FFA critters of all sorts) is still intense and fascinating. I encourage your readers to visit County Fairs for a true taste of Americana unadulterated. As always – your photos are real and your comments refreshing. I end with one last expression of Americana forgotten – God bless you!


  4. Thanks for the comments Angie, Jim and Jon. Yes, Jonathan I meant to include the County Fair in the content and slipped up. I think the County Fairs are actually better than State Fairs because of, as you said, the more local flavor. I remember, as a pre-schooler, attending the Dickson County Fair. One of the boys in our church won the ‘Greased Pig’ contest and raised his ‘prize’ to a 300 pound sow. Do they still have greased pig contests?


    • Alas Pleebe – I’ve scoured the Humphreys Co, Houston Co, Perry Co, and Dickson Co fairs and have found that greased pig competitions are no longer incorporated. How sad, but it likely speaks to the premium value of porkers in this era. Perhaps, (if God allows me the income) I’ll sponsor a greased pig chase in the next Houston Co fair. I remember how much fun it was and today’s kids should experience it also. What happens if there’s no catcher (as often occurs)? I guess I’ll have bacon for 2 years (or a very demanding pet)!


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