First of all, you need at least two youngsters to help you gather the produce, and they should be armed with laundry baskets. At least, that’s what Mom always said. Once all hands were on deck, and expectations for the day outlined, picking in our large suburban gardens began. We picked early, before the dew was dry.
Picking was where Mom’s big cheat came in. She used laundry baskets to gather produce from our nearly two-acre gardens–one in our yard and one in Grandma and Grandpa’s right next door.
We each got a sturdy laundry basket to fill with the easily bruised tomatoes. (For tomatoes, we used the small ‘sock and sewing’ baskets, the ones that held the socks waiting to be paired or clothes waiting to be mended.) These were the baskets with the solid tops and rims, with bodies that were perforated. It was important to have these perforations. We couldn’t pick any tomatoes that were undersized–they’d fall out of the basket!
The perforations played an important role in the cleaning process too. Before the tomatoes even got into the house, they were rinsed well with a gentle spray from the hose, and left in a shady spot by the back door to drain. The water and shade kept the tomatoes fairly cool, and when they were deemed dry enough, they came in to be processed.Â The first stage washing really cut down the washing times in the kitchen, and allowed Mom and Granny and I to concentrate on the freezing, blanching and canning.
We used the small baskets for green peppers, green beans, head lettuces and broccoli, all handled just like the tomatoes. Grandpa or Dad or sometimes Great-Uncle Paul would cut the broccoli, and we popped it into the baskets. We liked our broccoli fairly small and raw–or failing that, cooked on the same day. Not much made it into the freezer.
Harder veggies, like cucumbers, onions and corn were harvested into a big rectangular laundry basket–again with the holes in the body. Sometimes, it got heavy enough that two of us had to carry it to the hose in the back yard.
We used the basket to pick the green apples too. I’d climb up the tree and get ‘all the good ones’, feeling very brave as I did so. The apple tree seemed so tall when I was a child. The trunk was nearly as broad as a sliding board, though, and I was probably never more than five feet off the ground at any point.
After we cleaned the apples and took them in the house, Mom would simmer them briefly in a big pot, and then ladle them into the Roma. She took part of the apple pulp and dumped it into the crock pot with about a half-cup of sugar and two four-ounce bags of cinnamon red hots. She’d put the lid on and turn it on low for 12 hours, until it became wonderful apple butter. (Warm apple butter on vanilla ice cream is a wonderful thing.) The apple butter cheat was incredibly popular. Eventually, Mom stopped making applesauce with the leftover pulp and just made apple butter.
Now that many things are nearly ready to harvest, I find myself thinking of these days more and more often, and hoping I can teach the next generation the finer points of ‘harvest cheating’.