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Workers store flavors of summer
Or So It Seems

They're gathering summer into baskets, cutting it into chunks and storing it up for winter.

At the Thomson High School community canning operation on Whiteoak Road, all the tastes of the season are being preserved for those winter days when fresh produce is a memory or a glossy image in the seed catalog.

They're preparing cans of beans, beets, tomatoes, squash, carrots, okra, peaches and more. If it comes from a tree or bush or vine, it's probably fair game for the canners.

Like summer itself, the opportunity is fleeting. You'd better make plans to take your veggies to the little shed next to the voter registration building between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday of next week. And that's it.

You should call ahead to make sure: (706) 986-4200.

Like many features of the Thomson community, the canning operation is almost taken for granted. Everyone knows it's one of about 30 in Georgia, and it's the only one anywhere near Thomson. Everyone knows you can take your tomatoes there and get them canned for just 40 cents a can. Everyone knows where to drop off the produce. Everyone expects the canning operation to arrive with the summer solstice.

For me, though, the visit was anything but ordinary. I stopped outside the door, as usual, to open my eyes to whatever might be unique about the experience. I walked in to see steam escaping from vents, fresh produce being trimmed, and can lids being placed one by one. I saw Rick DuBose, Jay Murray and Jonathan Rosier tag-teaming the tomatoes.

I watched as Bobby Hadden walked in with a box of peas. The peas would go into a sheller; the team would place them in plastic freezer bags for just 10 cents a pound.

I wondered whether Hadden might have been of the home-canning generation. No, he said, but he remembers others doing that work.

For those who missed it, home canning was a great memory. Like most memories, it was better in retrospect than in reality. Those boiling summers witnessed gatherings of grandmothers and aunts into homes that were glad to have electricity, let alone air conditioning. And the heat would gather so heavy that canning utensils hardly were necessary. First, there was the picking of the corn, the boiling and cutting of the corn, and then cutting the kernels from the cob. We young ones would then head back to the field for another few dozen ears of corn.

Or it was toting the baskets of peaches or plums from the fruit market.

Or picking the gooseberries.

Or the green beans, or tomatoes, and more tomatoes.

The heat and the conversation would force us young ones back out of the house and back to the field.

It was hot and it was work, and I did not imagine for a moment that I ever would escape the drudgery or learn to miss it.

That was then.

When I approached the canning shed last week, I knew the canners would be working with tin cans, not Mason jars. I knew workers would be from the FFA, not from the family reunion. I knew the produce would be grown from someone else's fields and would return to someone else's pantry. And I had a sneaking suspicion that I would not leave feeling tired or hot or 12. But I found enough produce and activity to reinforce the memories.

Other visitors might just leave with hefty cans of wholesome food. I fared a little better. And I'm grateful.

Web posted on Thursday, July 21, 2011

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