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From the Publisher's Desk – Some memories can't be 'beet' (April 15, 2015 issue)

My memory stores various images and aromas and links them to certain places or times in my life. My great-grandparents’ home was just up the road from where I lived. They moved to town at one point and my family had since owned and kept up the 100 plus year old house.
Every summer we would go up and clean it out and get ready for canning. There were only four rooms total to the home, none of which included a bathroom. I am still amazed at how such a large family grew up there, one of whom was my grandfather, Claude Chandler.
The home had a living room, kitchen and two bedrooms. There were two stone fireplaces, one in the living room and one in a bedroom. The home had a tin roof, which created an amazing soothing sound during a steady rain. There was no insulation, so the sound resonated throughout the structure with no diffusion. That sound is stored in my memory but one I don’t get to hear very often anymore.
And then, there was the kitchen. No doubt this was the heart of the home. It was small compared to today’s grand schemes. There were no granite counter tops, no custom cabinets, and no stainless appliances. With a few counter surfaces to work on and a wood stove at one side, I dare say the meals still surpassed anything made in the fancy gourmet kitchens of today.
Breakfast, lunch and supper were all home cooked and all family members were expected to be present and seated around the table. Meals were all made from scratch, without the help of a cookbook. It was just inner knowledge of how much of this and how much of that was needed.
We would raise the windows in that old house and open the main doors, leaving the wooden screen doors to keep bugs out. The fresh air would circulate throughout the home and even seemed to arouse the scents of years past when the house was full of children and laughter.
My grandmother would get the fire going in the old wood cook stove and, that too, would start bringing out beautiful aromas that would mix and dance throughout. She used the house and the stove for economical reasons. Most cannings would take hours on the electric stove in the house we lived in, running up the electric bill. Plus, this also kept the home we lived in from getting too hot during those summer days. I think it somehow added to the flavor as well.
I loved watching the beets being brought in from the garden, tops cut off and cleaned. They didn’t look near as beautiful until they were cooked and the bright burgundy color showed through. The water they were cooked in was a profuse red as well as hands and kitchen towels they came in contact with.
Beets were placed in clean Mason jars and the proper mixture for pickling poured in. Lids and rings were applied to seal up the jars and they were placed in a large heavy pot, often with a towel wrapped around inside to keep the jars from clanging together and possibly breaking during boiling.
At this point, the delicious smell was wafting throughout the home and extending to the porches outside. You couldn’t get near the house without your taste buds watering from the temptation within.
I opened a jar of pickled beets just the other day and right away I was carried back to my youth. I paused for a moment and thought of those simpler times. With each bite I took, I smiled. It was as if I had just opened up a jar of beautiful memories from the past.
I remember growing up with my grandparents in the house nearby. My grandmother could get in the kitchen and whip up something sweet in no time. I didn’t even realize we had ingredients for such a tasty delight until it was ready.
My grandmother also had a weakness for store bought sweets. She liked the orange, marshmallow “Circus Peanuts,” the orange jelly candy and assorted boxes of chocolates. However, not everything in those boxes was to her liking. She would usually squeeze or break the pieces to see if it was something she would care for. To this day, I have followed the pattern she taught me and “test mash” my pieces first.
In the summer we would string beans, break them and then dry them in the sun. Those were then bagged and saved for special occasions. She called them “shuck beans.” They had a distinct flavor that still remains stored in my mind. After her death, my mom continued the tradition but for some reason they never tasted as good as my grandmother’s.
I recently received a special gift that belonged to my grandmother’s family. Neighbors and relatives, Gary and Betty Chandler, recently called mom and me to come over. They had a rocker they didn’t have room for and wanted to give it to us. It was a handmade, wooden rocker that belonged to my great-great-grandmother. I imagine my grandmother was probably held and rocked in it at some point by her grandmother.
It truly is a gift that money can’t buy and one that I will always treasure. Each time I pass through the house and see it, I feel the warmth of family and heritage. They didn’t have much to pass down but I am glad for what is preserved in belongings and memories.