“Almanzo stopped just a minute in the pantry door. Mother was straining the milk, at the far end of the long pantry; her back was toward him. The shelves on both sides were loaded with good things to eat. Big yellow cheeses were stacked there, and large brown cakes of maple sugar, and there were crusty loaves of fresh-baked bread, and four large cakes, and one whole shelf full of pies. One of the pies was cut, and a little piece of crust was temptingly broken off; it would never be missed.”
-Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

There are many things I love about homeschooling.
Being able to take days off when I need and / or want to is one great benefit.  Another plus is having my children around to learn, help and take part in work that needs done on the homefront.

We are about five books into the Little House on the Prairie Series, but back when we were reading Farmer Boy, I was struck by how much of the book revolved around food and family meals, and crops and harvest.  I think it’s safe to say 3/4 of that book is either describing what Almanzo (the Farmer Boy himself) was eating or helping to prepare (and man could that boy eat!  …something I am just beginning to understand as mama of 3 boys myself), or what he was helping to plant, tend or harvest.

And one thing that I noticed was that during the busy harvest seasons, or during other times when much work needed to be done (like cutting and hauling ice blocks), Almonzo and his brother didn’t have to go to school.  Instead, they stayed home to help with the work.  Basically, everything else had to stop in order to secure their precious harvest, and see it safely “put up” for winter. 
There was corn and wheat and oats and beans.
Watermelon rinds and cucumbers to pickle.
Apples and berries and plums to be jammed and jellied.
There were hazelnuts to gather, dry and store.
There was butter to make.
There were beets and garlics and carrots and potatoes to pull (and my, were there potatoes)!

All of this little Almonzo helped with, and he rejoiced because he got to stay home from school in order to take part in bringing in the harvest.

Well, we don’t have a farm–I barely have a garden for that matter!  And Lord knows as much as I want a little land to grow my own things in plenty, this is not that season, and I couldn’t handle doing it anyway.

Obviously, nowadays, folks are certainly no where near as dependent on the (local, raw) earth as they were “back in the old days.”
We are so spoiled that we can make a short trip to any number of local grocery stores and find in OR out-of-season fruits and vegetables any old time we want them. 

But despite how times have changed, I still find great personal satisfaction in putting up a portion of the fresh harvest that is just pouring in right now. 

Two weeks ago, I got my first 1/2 bushel of diced tomatoes up, and it felt so good.   Fellow canners will certainly understand. 
Then just yesterday, I canned (for a second time this season) strawberry and raspberry preserves–nearly 15 pints. 
Today, for fun, I am trying my hand at applesauce, some of which may or may not turn into apple butter. 
I’ve got PILES of basil waiting to become pesto sauce (to freeze) and sometime later this week, it’s on to marinara sauce.

Yesterday’s Strawberry-Honey, Strawberry-Raspberry, and Traditional Raspberry Jam

I am no expert–in fact, this is only my second year of canning and I am still learning so much–primarily about what to can, and what not to can, because the reality is, my “extra” time is so limited!
I learned from last year, for example, that sliced pickles are not as popular in this family as I thought.  And while every jar of sliced peaches truly were enjoyed by the kids last year, I didn’t really feel bad not canning them again this year.

The two things I feel I absolutely MUST can for our family are:
1. Tomatoes
2. Jams/Preserves

Tomatoes
We love tomatoes around here, in all their many forms.  So, like last year, I am putting up lots and lots of diced tomatoes, homemade rotel/salsa, and everyone’s favorite, homemade marinara sauce (the boys would eat it room temperature, right out of the jar if I let them).
In the fall and winter it seems like every meal starts with a jar of tomatoes in some form or another, and it is so rewarding to pull down a jar of something homemade on a cold night. 
I’ll do about 2 bushels in all for our family this year, and that will get us to summer, or nearly.

Jams and Preserves
I have to do at LEAST 2 or 3 rounds of jamming each summer.  Jams are great because you can only do them in small batches (around 6 cups of fruit at a time), so you don’t have to have a whole day set aside to put jam up.  You can do it here and there any time you want once you learn the simple process (and it REALLY is pretty simple!)  I am so much  more confident this year compared to last, and everything is going a lot smoother.
Yesterday I did 3 batches of jam before noon, and it was easy as can be.

A single batch of strawberry jam cools on the counter

Jams and preserves are high priority in our family because we have 4 kids, so we eat a LOT of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!  I used to do those little half pint jars of jam, but they are so tiny that we’d go through them in 2 days of making sandwiches for everyone, so now I use mostly pint sized jars.

Our first taste of the Strawberry Honey Jam we made this week…so so good

Gift Giving
It’s a lot of fun to can a dozen or so half pints jars for gift-giving, and sharing. We have really enjoyed giving our jams and preserves away to friends, family and neighbors–I mean, who doesn’t love homemade preserves?  (they are really great for giving to hard-to-buy-for relatives at Christmas time).

Some of our jams from last year, getting “dressed up” for Christmas

Let the Kids Help
As for me, I enjoy involving my children, particularly my oldest two, in whatever I am canning.  They get so excited to pick the fruits or vegetables with me, and to help to prepare them. And they truly feel PROUD when they see those jars sitting on the counter–a product they helped to make. 

Blueberry picking last season with my girl
Enjoying good friends and apple picking last week {apples which were promptly dipped in caramel and eaten!}
Soaking up the day with my kiddos
My sweet Josiah helping with apple-picking a few weeks ago.  We later realized he took one bite from every apple he bagged.  🙂

Canning really is one of the most rewarding things you can do to celebrate the bountiful harvest before it’s over, and winter is upon us. 
That’s why today, and perhaps a day or two next week, we won’t be doing any “formal school.”  Instead, we’ll enjoy our part of “bringing in the harvest” together, picking and buying from our local farms and orchards, and storing away for winter.  These are real life lessons we can enjoy together as a family.

For the moment, paper and pencil and books can wait.  Today, we’re homeschooling.

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What are you “putting up” right now?  Do you involve your children?  Please share in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Harvest Time (And Why We’re Not Doing “School” Today)

  1. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Hi Becki
    I have never canned applesauce before today. But oh, my, I didn’t know what I was missing! We had SUCH a great time making it, and it is so unbelievably yummy…and I’m not even an applesauce fan, really. The kids each had at least 5 bowls of warm unsweetened applesauce, warm from the pot. Of everything I have tried canning this year and last, it’s my favorite–so easy! And if you get “seconds” or cider apples from your farmmarket, it’s much cheaper. We got 1/2 bushel for $7 today. That made 4 quarts and 10 pints jarred. As far as recipes go, I rely mostly on pickyourown.org and my applesauce is only apples and a bit of cinnamon. Right now, I have a crock pot full of homemade applesauce that will be turn to applebutter overnight! 😀 MMmmmm. Let me know how your canning goes, and if I can help in any way!

  2. Becki Lewis

    I want to can applesauce this year. Your stuff looks great! I would love your recipe for sauce. I’m getting better at making it, but I love to see what other people do.

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