was a high-pressure job
was a time between root cellars and refrigeration when pressure cookers were used
to preserve food.
The Great Depression and Dust Bowl were blowing full
force, home gardens were feeding the populace and preservation of meat and produce
was an absolute necessity to survive.
Interestingly, steam pressure canning
dates back to Napoleon, the French general who offered a cash prize to anyone
who could invent a process to preserve food for his traveling armies. The invention
came, was leaked to the public and soon many businesses were preserving food in
this manner. By the 1900s, most canneries across the world were using pressure
At our farm, once the gardens started producing, our neighbors
and family gathered to shuck corn, shell peas, snap green beans and chop up tomatoes
and squash. Each family had recipes handed down from generation to generation
to make relish, pickles, chow-chow, and special stew stocks. The food was prepared
according to the recipe.
During certain times of the year, livestock was
butchered and processed with some parts being preserved by steam canning. Again,
family recipes were handed down for use.
Our kitchen cabinets and dining
table were filled with fruit jars, jar rings and flats each checked for flaws
and condition. Then all were boiled, steamed and made sanitary. Next, the boiled
jars were filled, capped and placed into the pressure cooker where steam pressured
the container for preservation. Upon cooling, if the flat lid popped up, the jar
was not sealed and the contents had to be used immediately or be reprocessed.
If the lid stayed down, it meant the canning was a success and could be stored
in the cellar for the coming season. Most food stayed preserved for years.
Garrett, an aunt and early pioneer in Ochiltree County, told of her part in the
earliest days of home canning. The county paid her tuition to attend a government-sponsored
canning school in Amarillo where she learned the latest processes for home canning.
After the school concluded, she brought home a large pressure cooker and all the
accessories needed to teach home canning. This was the first step in organizing
Home Demonstration Clubs in the county.
She established a canning school
at the local Civilian Conservation Corps camp kitchen and started demonstrating
home canning techniques. Each day she scheduled interested local women to bring
various fresh vegetables and meats to the kitchen where she taught them to home-can
The canning school was conducted through the summer and
fall with many women learning the process and most purchasing a pressure cooker
for their own home use. Both Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward companies offered
the canning equipment and cookers for home use along with selected meat curing
tools and ingredients.
One odd accessory included among Ida's tools was
a tattoo device to place black numbers between the toes of chicken's feet. I found
this strange until I realized all chickens look alike with their heads and feathers
removed and the tattoo was needed for identification.
This early day, well-used
steam canning process is a far cry from today's deep freezes, but at one time
was the "cat's meow" in food preservation. I can still recall the sounds of canning
time from our kitchen with the steam hissing through the valve and the rattle
of the steel ball releasing pressure as our pressure cooker worked its special
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"