Friday, August 15, 2014

Jar Flies and Cannin' Jars

Well, late summer is upon us, isn't it?  Just the other day I happened to hear the first solid sign that the summer days are soon to be waning away...a jar fly.  Do you all know what I'm talking about?  Some people call them cicadas, some even locusts, but growing up I always heard my Appalachian family call them jar flies.  Whatever you call them, there is no mistaking that the jolting, buzzing sound of one of those bugs coming from the trees means summer's days are numbered.  When I was a little girl, it was one of those sounds I dreaded hearing.  I knew school days would be around the corner and I was about to give up summer's sweet freedom!  I always did well in school, but summertime was just my favorite, and the start of a new school year inevitably made my shy little self a hair bit nervous.  And I'll tell you a little this day, when I hear a jar fly buzzing away, it about gives my stomach butterflies!  Can any of you all relate?

Now I don't know where jar flies got their name...whether it is their "jarring" sound, or if some curious soul once tried to catch some in a jar...but, connection or not, I'm going to talk about canning jars now.  How's that for a transition?!

But before I get too far into this little discussion, I just have to clear my conscience some.  So, confession time (head hanging low in shame)...I don't can.  Never have.  Maybe never will!  (Okay, that last sentence is a bit of an exaggeration...some day when I'm sitting around with very little to do, maybe I'd like to try it.  But aren't those "very little to do" days awfully hard to come by?)  I'm more of a freezer girl (prefer the taste)...and let me tell you, I've got some very fond memories of eating my Kentucky mamaw's frozen homegrown strawberries and cream corn.  But, in all fairness, canning has its place…and it certainly has a huge place in Appalachian history and heritage.  And home canned garden items are certainly better than those from a store!  Now I know that canning is not exclusive to Appalachian culture.  Once upon a time, canning was a way of life throughout much of America...particularly rural America.   If you worked hard to grow your own food, you had to preserve it somehow.

Aunt "Oh So Sweet's" Appalachian garden…I see some tomatoes nearly ready for a cannin' jar!
  But I know many Appalachian women did a great job of passing down the tradition of home canning (even when home canning was no longer an absolute necessity) helping preserve the practice for future generations to learn and enjoy.  And I would say canning is still worth pun intended...okay, maybe a little intended!

When I was growing up, my mother was one of those women with Appalachian roots who was keeping the canning tradition alive.  She canned all the time.  If the folks in our northern town would have seen the shelves lining our basement walls filled with all the homegrown canned goods, they may have asked if we were planning for World War III!  Ever heard that old Barbara Mandrell song, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool?"  Back then, I didn't know of anyone else around us that canned their own food items…it just wasn't a "popular" thing to do apparently.  But you know what is so neat?…all the old ways seem to have come back around. There is now a huge "grow your own food" movement, and in turn, preserving that bounty has once again become a popular focus.  For example, check out this great little list from the Ball company of places around the country that offer canning classes.  Hope you find one from your state on the list!  Canning has certainly regained some of its popularity…and being "country" is cool.  But now we knew that all along, didn't we?!

How about you?  Did you, or someone from your family in Appalachia, keep the tradition of canning alive?   Why not give it a try yourself if you never have?  And, yes, I promise to give it a try one of these days too!  What a fun project it would be to try with older kids, to teach them about an aspect of their Appalachian roots.  Check out this great article, "Canning with Children" from the Canning Across America website.  You know, we've got to teach those young ones where they're from, so they have some idea of where they're going!  

Well, the fact that I have never actually tried canning yet certainly hasn't stopped me from paying homage to the canning traditions of my Appalachian heritage.  I love having some old canning jars around to decorate with.  I am so blessed to have a big old half gallon jar that used to belong to my mamaw from Kentucky.

My mamaw's old mason jar filled with cinnamon sticks!
 It doesn't have a lid...and my word, it is well-used.  But I love it beyond belief!  And, if that jar could talk...oh, the stories it might tell!

My mamaw kept her canned goods in a warmhouse.  Ever heard of one?  Part of the warmhouse was built into a bank to keep the temperature nice and cool on hot summer days, and to keep things from freezing in the winter.  My mamaw's warmhouse is still standing, and I still love to go inside it and take in the earthy smell.  There is no other smell like it, and it's hard to describe...but it somehow smells of garden goodness, sweetness, and deep, rich earth.  It brings back a thousand memories to stand in that space, and now owning one of Mamaw's old jars allows me to relive just a few of those sweet Appalachian memories in my own home today.

My mamaw's old warmhouse
I have another smaller jar given to me by my mother that originally came from my mamaw as well.  This one I have filled with marbles.

 Did you ever play marbles growing up?  Now that's a fun Appalachian tradition worth preserving as well!  I promise to talk more about marbles in a future post.

Of course, I love heading to antique stores and looking for all kinds of pieces that are reminiscent of my mountain heritage...and good old mason jars are some of those pieces I enjoy finding.  Here is a nice blue set I found that I keep in my kitchen.

Most of the time I actually leave them empty, but at Christmas I will often fill them with candy canes.  Even though this set likely didn't come from Appalachia, it reminds me of it...and that's all that counts, right?

Are you the crafty sort? If so, you've probably noticed that mason jar craft ideas are everywhere anymore.  So if you are looking for some cute ideas for any heirloom or antique finds you happen to have, check out Country Living's 50 Best Ways to Use Mason Jars. So many adorable ideas!  And bonus, there is even a link to a "beginner's guide to preserving your own foods," in case you want to go ahead and give that actual canning a try!

And if you do have any old canning jars around your place, it's always fun to find out the age of those jars.  This Living Homegrown site has a great little chart you can use to help identify the time period of your Ball mason jars. I was so thrilled to find that my mamaw's half gallon jar I mentioned above dates from the period 1923-1933! LOVE that! comes the best part of this post...because free printables are always a wonderful thing!  And, boy, did I ever have fun creating this free Appalachian themed canning jar printable for you!

  You can print, frame and hang it for yourself...or give it as a gift to someone who may be missing the mountains of home a little. Just click here to download your own free copy.  It's my way of saying thank you for stopping by and letting me talk your ear off about jar flies and canning jars! Hope you enjoy!  And hope to see you back here soon to celebrate a little bit more of our mountain heritage!



  1. Lorene, I am now caught up fully on your blog. You write in an emotion based, heart warming way that took me back to Knott County where I grew up and the little items in the homes of my parents and grandparents. I have very few of those items now but I have quite a few others I have found in other places among other people. I suspect that I now live only a few miles from your home place and I worked for a few years in Magoffin County. Sometime when you and your family are headed back this way, we could sit down somewhere and have a hamburger and a talk if you and your husband were interested. I am glad I'm not the only person blogging about this culture. Have you ever read Wayfairin' Stranger's blog? He was from Morehead originally and I think you would like it a lot.

    1. Roger, it is good to hear from you! I am enjoying your blog as well. It's a small world sometimes isn't it? Thanks for the heads up about the Wayfarin' Stranger blog. I will have to check it out. We will keep you in mind the next time we have some spare time on a trip down. Many blessings, and have a great week!