Every once in a great while, my mother would get this urge to do some of the things she had learned as a child in the mining camps. She was born in Deadwood, South Dakota where my grandfather ran the mines for Homestake. She then moved to Telluride, Colorado where Grandpa ran the Alta Mines which were found above the town. Her house still stands up at the mines, although the mine itself flooded and burned in the 50’s. The road to the mine is a narrow, one lane dirt road that takes you above timberline. The house was built in such a way that nothing had to be carted up the mountain – so all of the beds and dresses are built into the house. Other items were either made on the mountain or brought carefully up the rough road. Because of this seclusion, my mother learned how to can vegetables and fruits at an early age. She was extremely glad that when the family moved to Denver when she was about 14 years old, she no longer had to help with any of those types of chores – because it was a hot and smelly business to can food!
However, one fall when I was about 10 years old, Mom decided that she wanted to try her hand at her old skills – so she bought a bushel of cucumbers and a bushel of cabbage with the idea she would make bread-and-butter pickles and sauerkraut. You are probably wondering why she would buy these items instead of grow them in her own garden – well, besides the fact that she was raising five daughters on her own and working at least two jobs, which leaves little time for gardening – there is also the fact that these items don’t grow in Gunnison, Colorado – too short of a growing season! As I’ve said in a past post – the only things we grew in Gunnison were cattle, hay and kids!
Mom bought the mason jars and all of the paraphernalia to start her canning process. The house smelled like vinegar and dill for days! By the time she was done we had dozens of jars of pickles – as well as dozens of jars of sauerkraut! They lined the shelves on the back porch – and Mom just beamed with pride at her accomplishment! They looked so good up on those shelves!
We ate a LOT of sauerkraut that fall and winter – sauerkraut and spareribs, sauerkraut and pork chops, sauerkraut and trout – every meal had sauerkraut. We did NOT eat any bread-and-butter pickles with our meals. Every jar which Mom opened revealed pickles that were soggy and not crisp. Mom kept hoping that it was just a matter of letting them ‘ferment’ a little longer and they would get better. Mom’s hope was never realized.
I don’t remember what happened to the last 20 or so jars of pickles and sauerkraut. I just remember the first night we didn’t have sauerkraut as a side dish – or listened to Mom swear as she opened yet another jar of limp pickles. The jars just mysteriously disappeared – never to be spoken of again.
After a few weeks, the house and the rest of us quit smelling liked vinegar and cabbage. My mother never did try canning again – we went back to buying our pickles at the grocery store and we didn’t buy sauerkraut for a very LONG time! Mom decided that if God had intended us to can our own food – he wouldn’t have invented grocery stores – and we were all very thankful that God had decided to invent those grocery stores.