Leaving It To The Ladies Our Canners Garner Both Cash and Laurels By Zillah Cross Peel - (The Country Gentleman, April 28, 1923)
More than 200 years ago there lived an Englishman, John Locke, who wrote a series of short essays called Thoughts. Among other things he said: " The making of sweetmeats out of fruits, such as apples and pears, is not only harmful to the maker but also to the eater, and a most inconvenient way of expense, but, "and he hesitated " I'll leave that to the ladies," and for hundreds of years not only John Locke but all men have been leaving it to the ladies.
"More fruit and vegetables have been canned in Benton County this year," said the county agent, " than in any county in Arkansas." It was during the free fair held in Bentonville last fall. A group of wondering people standing near listened, some doubting. A woman in the group decided she would start a personal investigation which would reach every part of the county.
According to the latest census of Arkansas, the total value of fruits grown in the state during the year 1919 was $19,375,227. More than a quarter of this was grown in Benton County, the valuation being $5,189,568.
Truly, the county agent was on his job, but, too, what becomes of all this fruit? Even the youngest Benton County citizen can tell you that Benton County ranks third in the United States in the production of apples, and the boy who goes swimming or the man who goes fishing knows he will never go hungry in the woods, for on every hillside and on the banks of all streams wild fruit, such as grapes, plums, blackberries, huckleberries and strawberries, are most plentiful. These, by the way, are never counted In the census, for they are Nature's very own -- yours for the picking
Aunt Liz's Way
Since the very beginning of time it has been left to the ladies to prepare the fruits; just how easy or complicated depends on the method used by the woman.
Perhaps Aunt Liz, a native of the hills, who doesn't get to the closest town, which is seventeen miles away, oftener than every two years, has more fruit for less money than anyone. Aunt Liz keeps to the old, old way of canning, and last fall wrapped and packed away for winter 175 quarts of fruit. The hillsides furnished her ninety-eight gallons of blackberries and seventy-five gallons of huckleberries.
Of the ninety-eight gallons of blackberries that she picked she canned fifty quarts and sold the others; she sold also fifteen gallons of the huckleberries at seventy cents a gallon, using the money to buy sugar for her preserves and jellies. She is selling her canned huckleberries at forty cents a quart. Confidentially she told me: "Some folks jest don't like huckleberry pie, but if they would only use one teaspoonful of vinegar to each pie they would all want huckleberries for pies."
In the winter food closet of Aunt Liz's were twenty-three quarts of grape juice -- made from summer grapes. She also has a recipe all her own for this. She cooks the grapes, runs then through a colander, cans pulp and juice together, so each quart jar is filled with half grape juice and half pulp, ready to make, at a minute's notice, fresh jam or butter. Her pears she got from a neighbor woman in exchange for quilting. Her peaches, fifty quarts, she put up on shares for a neighbor woman, who was sick during peach time. Her 175 quarts of fruit cost her only time and labor. Let's pass the laurels to Aunt Liz. Besides fruits, she gathered bushels of walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts, selling the surplus and storing the rest.
In the opposite direction from the hill canner, thirty-five miles away, is another ingenious woman, a widow, owner of 355 acres of land. On her place are ten varieties of fruit. For years she sold to small fruit buyers, many times not clearing over forty cents or fifty cents a crate.
This woman, Mrs. Davidson, felt that if she only had a market for her canned fruit she could can more advantageously than sell her fruits raw. This idea was suggested to her son, who travels in Oklahoma. After his work was finished in each town he went to hotels and restaurants, showed samples of fruit and took orders for fall delivery. During the month of October over 1600 jars were shipped by local freight to Oklahoma City, where it was reshipped to purchasers. Last summer Mrs. Davidson netted thirty cents a pint on every jar sold. She buys her sugar by the sack during the winter and her jar at wholesale. She puts up four varieties of fruits. For hotels and restaurants she puts in half-gallon jars peaches, apples, and blackberries for pies, without sugar.
Her preserves not only are good to eat but pleasing to the eye. She uses strawberries, cherries, peaches and pears, but the favorite is a crystal apple, made by cooking quartered apples in boiling water until clear, then placing them in an already prepared heavy syrup and cooking until crystal. The overripe fruits she makes up into jams, jellies, and butters. The most popular sellers are the peach and the pear honeys, made by grinding fruit through a food chopper and using half pulp and half sugar and cooking until clear. With the pear may be used a can of pineapple to a kettleful of pulp. The peach honey can be left unflavored or seasoned with spices.
Toast De Luxe
Toast, they say, never is just toast again after you have once eaten it with peach or pear honey. Canned huckleberries and sliced green tomato pickle are alway reordered by every purchaser.
When you sit chatting with Mrs. Davidson and think of jars in the terms of thousands you can't refrain from asking: "Isn't it hard work?" She returns: " Why, I gather the fruit early in the morning, then put it up during the day when I have time that would otherwise be wasted." And then: "I am going South for the winter and make definite arrangements for canning wholesale in the future. I could have sold 5000 jars of fruit last year had it been ready. My fruit goes in attractive condition. I wash, dry, and polish every jar, wrap it in paper and pack and ship by local freight."
In another part of the county is still another planning women, who a couple of years ago bought a small home canning outfit which canned a dozens cans at a time, using home-grown tomatoes, corn, beans, and peaches. As more was canned than could be used for home use, the surplus was sold to hotels, restaurants and stores in Bentonville. A complete homemade canning outfit which turns out 800 cans a day was later installed. Everything, except the capping machine, which is run by a gasoline engine, is homemade. A carload of tomatoes and fifty cases of corn, beans, and peaches were marketed last year. No purchaser has ever made a complaint as to the quality of any of this product.
In every part of Benton County housewives had from 150 to 650 quarts of fruit. In one community - Avoca - 135 families had 34,900 cans. Some can the same old way mother taught them; others use cold pack and steam pressure. Some can in their kitchens; others have their cellars fitted out with canning outfits. In the county home of the Keiths the canning is all done in the basement, where there are stationary tubs of soapstone, hot and cold water, stove and electric lights, making canning a joy. In an adjoining storeroom 750 quarts of extra-fine fruits, canned, preserved, jammed and jellied, were on view at the end of the canning season, a guaranty of a pleasing winter menu.
The most attractive, however, were the canned meats. A young calf which would have brought on foot only five dollars was put up in seventy-four jars, all valued at fifty dollars. Pot and rolled roasts, Spanish steaks, hash, soup meats, liver paste and baked heart were ready for use. On a cold wintery, blustery night the housewife has no trouble wondering what she will serve for her evening meal.
The county home-demonstration agent helped can during last summer thirty beeves and many frying chickens. Club girls, working under the direction of the home-demonstration agent, put up hundreds of quarts of fruits and vegetables in the regulation jar.
"Jars--jars!" cries someone. "How many jars have they used?" Wholesale grocery houses were driven almost distracted by grocerymen from every town in the county, who were in turn driven almost into hysterics by their women customers with the hourly cry of "I must have some jars! May I have the first that come in?" Wholesale houses couldn't depend on trains, so relieved the situation by sending out trucks from town to town, distributing the precious jars where the were urgently needed.
One farm wife solved her own problem by canning her peaches in four or five gallon earthen jars. And one time the big earthen churn helped out, by covering the hole in the lid with paper and sealing all with sealing wax. Going away for a few days' visit, a son, seeing peaches ripening too fast, decided to "can like mother," and put up fifty quarts, skins, seeds and all. Son's all right, so were the peaches, for I tasted them, though some might choose to vary his methods somewhat.
One young women, who is proud of her year's work at the State University, says her education would have been impossible had it not been that her mother was an adept in the art of canning, not only fruits and vegetables, but also beef, pork and chicken.
This girl rented light-housekeeping rooms and did her own cooking, but it was not expensive, for packed in her fruit closet were pint jars of fresh beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, steaks, chickens and roasts. The only things she had to buy were milk, sugar, bread and potatoes.
Besides the very essential fruits, vegetables and soups mixtures, many women have canned special fancy fruits. One woman had in her fruit closet twenty-seven varieties of jams, jellies, conserves and marmalades. One variety of which she is very proud is a peach mango; the recipe has been handed down in her family for more than seventy-five years. Her dinner parties are always made more attractive by some choice pickle relish or preserve. Black walnuts are used in many of her recipes. Pickled and candied cherries are a favorite with many housewives. The always welcome red and green mangoes were used by the bushel in our county last summer, selling at fifteen cents a dozen. Housewives took advantage of this low price and chopped, ground and packed away mangoes galore.
There may be another reason why Benton County canned more fruit last summer than her sister counties. There are more farms operated by owners in Benton County than in any other county in the state, and perhaps the housewively instinct in canning the over-supply may be one of the reasons why Benton County is reported as having more farms free from mortgage debt than any other county in the state -- all because, no doubt, the canning of sweetmeats has been left to the ladies, just as John Locke decided it would be wisest and safest for him to do some two centuries ago.