By Jennifer Richardson
It was midnight a few nights ago, and the beautiful aroma of cooked, fresh sweetcorn was wafting through our home. Two sizeable bowls on the table held steaming mounds of just-cooked corn kernels ready to bag. Two large cook pots of more corn were simmering away on the stove.
After helping with the shucking and some of the cutting, the kids had long since gone to bed. Even my husband, my stalwart companion and biggest helper in all projects, had let me know he really had to get some rest as he generally needs to be awake long before the sunrise.
So it was me, and piles of delicious corn inhabiting my dining room and kitchen–that was staring down the barrel of a giant mess. Pieces of cut corn kernels were stuck in the carpet and other odd places, the table was littered with moisture and corn remnants, dishes filled the sink, and a fine mist of salt and pepper and corn juice had been baked onto the stovetop. I call it the corn aftermath.
I don’t put away corn every year, but most years, I do. The upside is fabulous sweet corn in the freezer for months to come and the downside is it takes a lot of work and leaves a terrific mess to clean up.
Each time I undertake this kind of project I feel a sense of satisfaction; it feels good to work hard at creating food security for my family. But more so, I feel a profound respect for the people who have gone before me that would smile at my little one night corn project. I am referring to the people who have planted gardens or whole fields, who watered and cultivated, and then harvested and prepped, and then put all kinds of food away to help their families survive the long spaces between growing seasons.
I had a few minutes earlier in the evening between batches, and I had posted a few photos on social media of the great corn project of 2021 including my very messy dining room table. I offered some gratitude for those in the past and present that took the time to put food by to help feed their families.
I enjoy the satisfaction of simply being a part of a community, and that includes sharing the small moments of our lives with my circle of friends and family. Many friends offered supportive comments about my work and shared anecdotes from their own efforts at food preservation. One of the people who responded to my post about my corn project was my friend Marie.
She said, “I know that in another time in my life, when we lived on the farm, we had a large garden and I canned & froze much of that bounty, as well as Jerry’s chickens we butchered. I look back at that time and wonder how we did all that. I know we were feeding our family of five and I was much younger and more energetic. Now, I just do a little at a time from my little garden, or the few extra ears of corn I get, usually freezing because that’s easier with smaller batches. It’s just me, now. That was another lifetime ago.”
I was filled with wonder at how much effort people have historically expended to feed their families, including Marie. So much satisfaction, but wow, so much work! I said, Marie, you are a hero. You have lived and worked for a life that people in my age-group and younger know very little about. I aspire to be like you.
I was too tired to clean up in the wee hours of the morning, so I rinsed pots and bowls and left the mess until later in the day. When I returned to complete my cleanup, I took a moment to glance at my rows of frozen sweetcorn bags, standing like soldiers ready to protect us from hunger and want. I was reminded again of Marie’s life and work for her family. I thought of dirt-stained hands, boiling hot canning pots, picking and cutting and cooking, early mornings and late nights, and shelves and freezers filled with the hard work of creating sustenance.
To Marie, and all the moms and grandmas who put food by every year, I have much admiration for you. While you were feeding family and friends in your own home, as a collective you quietly united to nourish an entire culture. Many of us are here today because you labored to sustain the ones you loved. Thank you. In my small ways I will try to carry on your work, one bag of sweetcorn at a time.