Yes, Jonas! Always Wash Strawberries In Cold Water!

Image for post
Image for post
Mormon farmer’s wives washing strawberries (in cold water) and canning them Washington state ca. 1950–55

Your story brought back memories of The Canning Of Strawberries by my grandma, a Mormon Swedish farmer’s wife, and other farmer’s wives who went from farm to farm helping each other “put up” fruit and vegetables for the winter.

Strawberry season was the first big canning event. On the front lawn of the farmhouse, teams of women washed hundreds of crates of berries in ice cold water, hulled them, and packed them into Mason jars with a little sugar and water. Teams of men lowered them into a cauldron of boiling water over an open fire, and took them out again. That was “men’s” work. Besides, no self-respecting Swedish woman would let that kind of operation take place in their immaculate kitchen. Other teams boiled and sterilized empty jars and lids. Others prepared pectin to seal off the fruit in the jars (remember the “waxy” seal when the lids came off the Mason jars?).

Us kids picked the berries at the Big U-Pick farms out in rural Washington, between Blaine and Ferndale, alongside migrant farmers who lived in the little shacks that lined the strawberry fields. After we picked for our own canning, we spent the rest of the summer picking strawberries, raspberries and beans to earn enough money to buy clothes for school in the fall. (Between sixth and seventh grade, I made $90 picking fruit during the summer and bought a portable Blue Smith Corona — instead of a winter coat — so I could take typing. I was stuck with the old coat that winter).

Babies were parked in playpens which were strategically placed next to crates of berries so they could keep themselves amused by pulling berries out with tiny fingers, squashing them, playing with them, or eating them. At the end of the day, they were simply hosed off.

Kids ran all over my grandparent’s orchard with dozens of trees full of ripening fruit. All summer, the women went from farm to farm, helping can peaches, plums, pears, applesauce, raspberries, tomatoes, corn, peas and beans, enough to have ample fruit and vegetables throughout the winter.

There was one tall, taciturn woman who said no more than three words all summer long whose job it was to hand-pump buckets of very cold (icy) water from the the underground well to wash the berries.

Yes, Jonas! Cold Water! All the fruit had to be washed with cold water and handled quickly. Otherwise they’d warm and “turn” faster, meaning ferment. By mid-afternoons on hot summer days, the air was filled with the sweet tangy smell of turning peaches, berries, plums and pears. We hurried to can them before they really fermented; God forbid good Mormon women might end up with a root cellar full of strawberry wine.

We labeled, dated, organized and sorted them and arranged them on the shelves in the root cellar deep underground which was always cool in summer and warm in winter.

Funny how a good story like yours can spark a whole set of forgotten memories. I can almost taste the berries and see my stained hands and smell the turning fruit. I wrote my first stories on the blue Smith-Corona earned from picking strawberries.

To celebrate your story and the memories, I painted you a little watercolor of the scene as I remembered it: Mormon Farmer’s Wives Washing (with cold water) and Canning Strawberries ca. 1950–57. Enjoy.

Written by

Writer. Artist. Ex-politician. Old woman.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store