Gardening with Grandma


Image by Big Grey Mare via Flickr

My grandma has been gone for 30 years now, but I think about her often.  She had a tough childhood, lots of brothers and sisters, family living in poverty.  I remember her telling the story of how her mother worked at a restaurant and they let her bring the leftovers from diners’ plates home to her children.  I can’t even imagine that, but they were thankful to have the food.  My grandma had to drop out of school when she was just in junior high, they simply couldn’t afford to send her to school.  And the thing of it was, my grandma was smart.  She liked to read and could spell like nobody’s business.  I don’t know if she had regrets or was able to just accept how things played out.  She didn’t talk about things like that, at least not to the grandkids.

Grandma always had a huge garden and canned, froze, pickled, and stored everything.  She raised all the usual vegetables (corn, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, peppers, squash, lima beans, cucumbers, cabbage,  pumpkins, lettuce, radishes, onions, rhubarb, asparagus, etc), but she also had a large strawberry bed, grape arbors, fruit trees (apples, peaches, pears).  We also gathered persimmons, blackberries, elderberries and whatever else she came across. 

She saved her own seeds and had a cold frame where she started her own plants…none of this running out to Lowe’s to buy plants for her.  I wonder what she would think about how we garden these days?  She’d probably laugh at my little patio container garden…or maybe not, maybe she’d like that I still garden using what space I have available at this time. 

She had a huge crock that she would make sauerkraut and pickles in (I now have that crock sitting in my living room)…all I remember about the sauerkraut process was that it tended to get this scummy stuff on top…ick..I suppose she scooped it off, but I don’t really remember that part of it.  She made what she called chow-chow, which was a sort of relish with corn and a bunch of other stuff in it.  I never really liked it as a kid, so I can’t tell you more about it.  She also made pickle relish, jelly, jam and preserves…oh my, that stuff was so much better than what you can buy at the store.  She ran the persimmons we gathered through a food mill and froze the pulp in two-cup containers.   I specifically remember that, because that’s how much persimmon pulp she used to make her persimmon pudding…holy moly…what a treat!!

We often went out to abandoned homesteads (either walking or riding on the tractor if the overgrown dirt road was passable) and dug up perennials.  I think her vegetable garden was something she felt obligated to do (growing up dirt poor probably had something to do with that), but her flowers brought joy to her life.  She dug up all along the road and just kept planting and planting any flowers she came across (peonies, iris, roses, tulips, daffodils, lilies, hollyhocks, glads, canna lilies, snowball bushes).   There was always something in bloom and she loved to talk about those flowers.  I’m so glad for her that she was able to do something that made her happy.  And I’m so thankful that I had her in my life for close to 20 years.