By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico
Lillie Belle Toombs likes to know what goes into her canned food.
Toombs, who lives in the Pep community, cans her vegetables and fruits each year in October. She said she was taught by her mother when she was 17 years old.
“It’s become a tradition. I like to do it,” Toombs said.
Foods Toombs cans include green beans, carrots, beets, black-eyed peas, apples, peaches and pears. She also makes jellies.
She said her husband, J.T., waits all year for her to make cinnamon pickles.
“He loves those pickles,” Toombs said of the cucumber and cinnamon concoction that takes several days to make.
But what Toombs said she enjoys most about canning is being self-sufficient.
“I like to know I have my own food and I know what went into it. It doesn’t have all the preservatives and stuff,” she said.
Mary Kalbas owns one of the area farms that supplies canners with their fresh picked produce.
A “you-pick garden,” Kalbas supplies area residents with rows of vegetables still on the plant ready to be picked. Kalbas grows several kinds of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, jalapenos, green beans, squash, bell peppers and watermelon.
Kalbas said 90 percent of the people who pick the fresh vegetables she offers are going to can at least a portion of what they get.
“People like fresh canned vegetables. You can’t beat it. You can open up that can a year from now and they’ll still have that (fresh) taste,” she said.
Kathy Wall of Clovis agreed.
“Fresh canned vegetables taste like they’re fresh out of the garden,” Wall said.
Wall learned to can with her mother when she was 8 years old in the same kitchen where she now cans her vegetables with her children and grandchildren.
“We’re making memories. I want to teach my kids and grandkids to do it. Not many people are passing on the tradition any more. It’s sad,” Wall said.
Wall said she cans everything she can get her hands on.
“All the stuff at the farmers’ market, every bit of it can be canned,” she said.
Wall said she cans because it is a tradition, it is economical and the canned foods are there when she needs them.
“It’s just self-preservation really,” she said.