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Farm-to-Table: 1939

Farm-to-Table: 1939

November 1939. "Mrs. John Dixon cans an adequate supply of fruits and vegetables to give her family a balanced diet during the winter. Saint Charles County, Missouri." Photo by Arthur Rothstein for the FSA. View full size.


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Hot August Canning Days

I remember helping can each and every summer in the 1970's. We had a HUGE garden and canned nearly everything. My sister and I would wash the narrow mouth jars (our hands were little) and snap beans, wash berries, peel the hot skins off of tomatoes and more. With sweat pouring off of because of the hot stove and boiling water, we looked forward to getting outside where it was ONLY 95 degrees!

Successful Family From Humble Beginnings

Daughter Grace grew up to become a nurse.

Grace L. Schneider, 61, of St. Charles, died Monday (June 18, 1990) at Parkside Meadows Retirement Community in St. Charles. Before retiring last year, Mrs. Schneider had been a nurse in the office of Dr. William H. Poggemeier in St. Charles. She was a member of St. John's United Church of Christ in St. Charles. A funeral service will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Baue Funeral Home, 620 Jefferson Street, St. Charles. Burial Burial will be in St. John's Cemetery, Sixth Street and Boonslick Road, St. Charles. Visitation will be from 2:30 to 9 p.m. today. Among survivors are her husband, Harold E. Schneider of St. Charles; two daughters, Donna Thomassen of St. Peters and Cathy Quest of Warrenton, her mother, Ruth Dixon of St. Charles; one brother, John Kenneth Dixon of Defiance; and four grandchildren. Memorial contributions can be made to St. John's United Church of Christ.
From St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 19 Jun 1990

Pull up a chair and sit a spell

What a wonderfully evocative picture. I remember my mom and grandmother doing canning like this into the 1970s with produce from our garden (although with an electric stove of course). My generation lost so much of that practical knowledge.

I can almost feel the texture of the tablecloth under my arms while I would sit and watch my mom and grandmother go through the various steps of canning. My favorite was the different process of making fruit preserves (although the functional mason jar remained front and center). I remember mom getting armloads of sure-jell packets from the store during berry season.

As a kid I used to love spread that sweet concoction of strawberries or blackberries or peaches on some of mom's homemade french toast. What I wouldn't give to go back and re-experience some of those memories again.

Shelf Life

My mother is still making pies with cherries she canned over thirty years ago. Canning is an involved yet remarkable process.

That wall covering...

I'm really curious about the wall covering, which seems to be something like linoleum. At the time, would that pattern have seemed modern or old-fashioned? Does it say anything about how well-off this family is?


My first thought was that this scene was staged. I thought we should be seeing steam from the canning kettle, and Mom is standing awfully close to that hot stove. Also the table seems too close for safety.

[Posed, not staged. She really did can that food in that place, only not at that moment. -tterrace]


That oilcloth tablecloth needed turning about two years ago! My Sicilian grandmother in law always turned the table cloth a quarter turn once a week.

Joke of the Period

My father used to tell the joke, about what they do with extra food, "We eat what we can, and what we can't, we can."

She Eventually Became a Teacher

Ruth Marcella Dixon, 90, of St Charles, died Saturday (Aug. 15, 1998) at Mark Twain Manor in Bridgeton of natural causes. Mrs. Dixon was a retired teacher in St. Charles County. Visitation will be from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. today today at the First United Methodist Church at 801 First Capitol Drive in St. Charles and from 4 to 8 p.m. today at T.E. Pitman Funeral Home, 909 Pitman Avenue in Wentzville. A funeral service will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church in Charles. Burial will be held at Oak Grove Cemetery at 2700 West Clay Street in St. Charles. Among the survivors are a son, John K. Dixon of Defiance; two sisters, sisters, Thelma E. Mason and Edie Mason, both of Belleville; six grandchildren; and nine greatgrandchildren. greatgrandchildren. Memorial contributions to the United Methodist Church or St. Peters Peters Residence for Seniors can be made in care of T.E. Pitman Funeral Funeral Home, Box 248, Wentzville, Mo. 63385.

The Dixon Family

John Gordon Dixon (not pictured); Ruth Marcella Dixon (31) with Grace Lee (10) and John Kenneth (8).

Wonderful Photo

Mrs. Dixon looks so proud in her sparse, but fully functional kitchen. Proud of her children and her canning. A much more simple time.

Ball and Mason

Are the patron saints of preserving and canning food. My wonderful new neighbors are always calling me to meet me at their door with a Mason or Ball jar filled with some kind of delicious soup or stew. I appreciate the way she only screws the lid on partly tight with its inside lid and gasket so it won't be so hard to open later. It gets quickly emptied into a Corningware bowl for later heating, then the jars cleaned and returned for refills!

Small Batch

I'm thinking there is no actual canning going on here. I'd be surprised to learn that processing just one jar each of several different foods was ever a thing. But I've been wrong before!

[What's Mother lifting out of that pot? - Dave]

Ground cherries

I thought those were ground cherries, which my mother-in-law used to can. They don't, by the way, taste anything like cherries.

Half the garden

Chow chow, dill pickles, tomatoes, kernel corn, and … erm … cherries? And Mrs. Dixon’s just lifting out a jar of cut green beans from the canner.

[Hellip cherries are best eaten fresh. - Dave]

Indeed I am sure they are; markup, however, should be well done.


I remember the canning my mom and my granmas did. Yes, that was one of the few ways to preserve perishables throught the winter. And it was a big advance compared to the times before Nicolas Appert, Louis Pasteur and their disciples.

But if memory serves right, ballace involved ballancing produce with sugar and heat. The sugar part was always popular with us kids.

The cans and glasses that contained more nasty greens than sugar - not so much.

[There seems to be some confusion here between "balancing" (which has just one L) and "preserving." A balanced diet is one with nutritionally correct proportions of vegetables, meats and fats. - Dave]

Sure (damn double Ls in other words and languages and an ancient keyboard). Like most other correctnesses, the nutritionally one is kind of relative. These days we have trucks, fridges and freezers which have taken the potential for nutritional correctness to an unprecedented level. If only we made better use of that *sigh*

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