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Pickling food and preserving traditions

For the children, summers at Maple Bay meant swimming, boating and laying on the beach. But for the women, these hot summer days signalled work. Grannie Minnie and Auntie Grace would journey into Duncan where they donned their house dresses and aprons. Then, they set to, watering and weeding the garden. 

Gubby had bought the empty lot behind their house on First Street in Duncan, so there was plenty of space to grow tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, beets, and onions - all manner of vegetables.  While the prairie farmers struggled to plant a crop during the Dirty Thirties, the Hatties on Vancouver Island thrived. They gathered produce from their fruit trees and garden, fished for salmon and hunted the plentiful pheasant and deer.

From left: Grace, Minnie, Mar, and Kathy Hattie, c. 1940s

The women were ferocious in providing meals for their families, involved in every aspect, from seedlings to meal prep. Before refrigeration, it was canning that got them through the winter. And so, on those scorching days that led from summer into fall, the women dug their hands into the soil, and emerged with bounty. They washed, peeled, chopped, and boiled. They fed the stove on sweltering days, hot steam kissing their face and curling their hair. All to create the perfectly preserved jars. 

Beside the back porch, was the entrance to the root cellar. After swinging open the doors, you stepped down into a cool, dark space under the house, perfectly suited to display the rich treasures of purples, reds, and greens. One day, when he was three or four years old, my dad went missing. His mom, aunt and cousins, searched for him everywhere, until finally they found him in the root cellar. He had lifted the crock lid and eaten the pickled onions until he got sick.

Excerpt from Cousin Jackie Smith's recipe book.

Pickled onions were just one of the concoctions that the women prepared for the year. Pickled beets, bread and butter pickles, tomato jam, tomato relish, zucchini pickle, green tomato chutney pickle, ripe cucumber pickle, and dilly beans are a few of the other recipes that I found scattered throughout my Grannie Inkster’s and Great-Auntie Grace’s recipes. Handwritten notes labelled “Mum” (my great-grandmother Minnie Hattie) or “Grannie” (my great-great grandmother Margaret Grassie) reveal the generations of women who laboured over food, sharing their culinary secrets with daughters and granddaughters. Until now. 

The recipes are there, but I have not made them. Perhaps, in a time of rising food prices and increasing scarcity, it’s time to dust off these recipes and learn from my ancestors. Picking, canning, and drying food, while preserving traditions.


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