Harvesting Mom’s pantry

I know it’s barely spring (and I’m still not sure that isn’t a rumor), but for some reason today I was thinking about harvest.

Not the kind of harvest when combines are impeding traffic and everyone is “in the field.” I mean the harvest that takes place every year at my house.

I call it “harvesting Mom’s pantry.”

Out back, we have a mini-grove of apple trees we’ve planted over the years. We started out planting three trees shortly after we moved to southwest Minnesota. Every now and then Eric would come home with another until I told him to please quit buying them. There are now 7 apple trees total, and they put out a lot of apples. I give a lot of them away.

I like to pick them, though. I take an entire day to do it, sorting them into “eating” and “cooking” apples as I go. I used to make gallons of applesauce, to the point that my kids would turn up their spoiled noises at store-bought sauce. This year I made two roasters full of apple butter, which the two older kids (who have already moved out) managed to grab several jars of during their annual harvesting of Mom’s pantry.

Seriously, my daughter plans her fall visit home to coincide with the passing of deer hunting season, because she knows there will be venison by then. After the first few days of deer season, she’ll call to check on Dad’s progress. My husband group hunts with some friends, so there are generally plenty of tags to fill.

“What’s the deer count at?” she’ll ask casually.

“Go get your own,” her father will reply.

By the time she makes a trip from Rochester to see us each fall, the pantry is full of home-made salsa and apple sauce and apple butter. There are frozen pepper packs (I clean out the garden after all the salsa is done, chop all the leftover peppers together and freeze them in small quantities) and corn and venison steaks, chops and burger. Depending on how busy I was that fall and what I got my hands on (I trade apples with other people for fun stuff) I might have made jelly or jam. I always make a spicy tomato sauce for use as a base in chili or casseroles.

With a smile, my daughter grabs a box and starts to load it up, picking through the various shelves and jars like she’s at the local supermarket. When she catches me watching her, she just grins and says, “Mama, no one makes this stuff as good as you do.”

And the flattery works. Every year.

Before leaving, she pulls out a battered Styrofoam cooler, or if it’s cold enough, just grabs a grocery bag and starts rummaging in the freezer.

“How many packages can I take?” she’ll ask.

“Get your own,” her father will reply.

“But Dad…”

A short while later he’s carrying the box or bag to the car for her.

Our 20-year-old son doesn’t wait for after deer hunting. He only lives a half hour away, so when he hears that I’m making salsa or jam or whatever, he casually drops by to see what’s up for grabs. After all, he has to compete with his sister for the goodies. While digging through the cupboard or the freezer or the pantry, he may pick up a box of something or a can that catches his attention.

“I’ve never tried this before – can I have it?” he’ll ask.

“Get your own,” his father will reply.

A short time later, Eric is holding the door so the kid can put a bag in his car.

Harvesting at Mom’s is a funny thing. It makes me smile. It also makes me wonder if I’m going to have to increase my output when the youngest kid moves out.

All I need to do now is convince them to give me back my jars.