What Aunt Marty Taught Me About Canning and Life

Writer Annette Thurmon revisits the memory of her aunt’s basement canning closet and finds the foundation of her values.

Annette Thurmon

Simply Recipes / Annette Thurmon

I don’t have many vivid childhood memories, but the few that are ever-present in my mind are of my aunt Marty. I am six and we are in her small rural West Virginian kitchen making delicious food from scratch for a family meal. There's green bean casserole, cornbread, apple crisp, and her famous stuffing. Most of the ingredients were grown right outside, in her large garden nestled in the mountains. There was always fresh corn, okra, tomatoes, and green beans. Growing and preserving food was in her DNA.

She would say to me, “Annette, run down to the basement and grab me a jar of green beans, please.” The basement was just what you would expect: dark, damp, and filled with antiques and boxes. Her canning jar closet was way down on the left corner. The wooden shelves had pretty flower-patterned liners and each section of jars was labeled in her beautiful cursive handwriting. There were rows and rows of jars filled to the brim with pickles, sauces, and jams that aunt Marty grew, harvested, and canned. She canned into her eighties, and her passion has stuck with me and defined who I've become.

Fast forward 30 years, I moved out of the city into a small Southern town in Georgia. I was in search of a more abundant life—one filled with more connection and joy. I yearned to get back to nature. So, I went from designing wedding gowns to chasing chickens around our property in the country. Away from a world of deadlines, constant notifications, and busyness, I finally found joy in the soil that I tilled, in the foods I that I grew, in caring for animals, and looking up at sunny azure skies.

The first time aunt Marty visited, I was so proud to show her my homegrown tomatoes and eager to have her show me her ways. I had little experience gardening or canning, but the thought of having fresh pizza sauce in the middle of winter was very motivating to me. When she talked about canning, the process did not seem scary or complicated. She walked me through the canning steps with such graceful and effortless flow. In that moment, I truly began understand the benefits of country living—she shined the light on my calling in this simpler life. The days are long and the tasks are many but there is great satisfaction found in the fruits of our labor. 

The other day, I harvested about 40 tomatoes and decided to make barbecue sauce. It’s no joke—it took me four hours from start to finish, and it yielded one jar! Just one! For a moment, it felt like a waste of my time. Then, I realized something: Those four hours were spent with my three-year-old daughter by my side. She helped gather the tomatoes, and she watched as I carefully peeled and cooked them down. It took longer only because her tiny hands and feet needed my attention along the way. I will never forget these sweet memories with her in the kitchen. Though one jar is not a lot, the lessons I learned from that jar will forever be a part of my story.

"The days are long and the tasks are many but there is great satisfaction found in the fruits of our labor." 

Canning is an old method of preserving with time-honored values that I'm still learning. Through canning, Aunt Mary has shown me a love of gardening and savoring the fruits of my labor. There’s also the respect for the generations who came before me—I feel a sense of joy and pride about following in her footsteps. These are beautiful and tangible values that I feel every time I open a jar of something I grew and preserved.

I hope you find the same joy when you can.