From one mother to another, family traditions of food preservation (and cooking) are staying alive.
Neila Monroe learned to can from her mother, Barbara Logue, and the two women have shared the ritual with Neila’s daughters and grandchildren.
“I guess I’ve been canning most of my life,” Monroe said, explaining how the custom of gardening and canning goes back to when she, her brother Brent and her sister Rosemary were growing up on a farm in Rose Hill in Mercer County. If they woke up and could not find their mom in the house, they knew to eat a quick bowl of cereal and head straight to the garden. The three youngsters helped pick green beans, corn or whatever vegetable they were going to have to help “put up” that particular day. “I suppose you could say it’s just a way of life for me.
“My mother, Barbara Logue, has pretty much taught me everything I know about canning,” she said. “She is almost 83 and doesn’t do that much canning these days, but likes to help us with it when she is able. Mom was the youngest child of Charlie and Rosie Carr Baker. Grandma had seven other children and the youngest of them was 9 before Mom came along. I’m sure Mom’s four older sisters probably taught her as much about canning as Grandma did. Because Mom’s parents were older when she came along (her dad was born in 1891), she never really had any grandparents that she could remember, but because of the era and area they lived in, I’d say they probably were gardeners also.”
Like many children growing up, Monroe said she complained about gardening, but as an adult has always raised a garden—wherever she lived. She has also shared her love of the earth and its bounty with her family. “I didn’t want my daughters to grow up thinking that food just came from the shelves at Kroger,” she explained. “I wanted them to know how to grow, preserve and cook food that they helped to grow. I think, like me, they appreciate that more now as adults than they did when they were younger.”
Like her mother before her, Monroe passed along what she learned growing up with her daughters, Hannah Logue Tyler and Abi Logue Patton. Tyler remembers her family always canning or freezing garden produce. “From a small child, we’ve always had a garden,” she explained. “I can remember going to my grandmothers to help shuck corn and freeze it.” Tyler said she has become more active – and perhaps aware – in food preservation in the last eight plus years simply to know what was in her food. That was not her original objective. “I can remember living in Burgin and mom asking us what we wanted to plant in the garden,” she said, reflecting on her childhood. “I thought hotdogs sounded pretty good.”
She has learned that hotdogs do not come from the garden while gaining respect for her mother and grandmother’s proficiency in the kitchen. “It’s almost like my mom and grandmother move around the kitchen with finesse,” Tyler said. “They have always encouraged us to be in the kitchen and to cook. If they find a new recipe that sounds good, they are always up to the challenge of trying it out. I love that about my family. Meal times were always family time. We would share about our day, try the new recipe, or show off our cooking skills. At Christmas, we would make cookies and share them with others.”
Tyler also has fond memories of learning from her grandmother. “I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter when I took a canning class with my grandmother at the extension office. It was fun to learn, but funny to know my grandmother could have probably taught the class herself. We are always up to try new canning/freezer recipes.”
Gardening and farming are as much a tradition as the canning. “My dad, Kermit Logue, his brother, J. W., and their dad, Virgil, always farmed together,” said Monroe. “We all worked in the tobacco crop together and even though the three of them had their own perspective gardens, they would raise some things like potatoes together. I guess I come from families on both my parents’ sides that were gardeners and I enjoy canning with my children and grandchildren. Like Grandma always said, ‘many hands makes the workload light.’”
In generations past, families preserved food to ensure bounty in the winter and, in some cases, it was more financially feasible for them. It is not a cost factor for Monroe, but she does enjoy the bounty in the winter months. She also likes knowing what is in the food she eats.
“Although you can buy fruits and vegetables as cheap as or cheaper than you can actually grow and can them yourself we still do it mainly because we know there isn’t any preservatives or additives,” she explained. “And besides that, I think it just tastes better. My husband, Virgil, loves to garden and loves teaching the grandchildren how to do it. Our grandson, Caleb, loves to pick asparagus or tomatoes and eat them right out in the garden. He and his sister, Cora, both love to help pick and break beans or shuck corn.
Virgil’s garden spans more than a few vegetables. He has apple, pear, peach and cherry trees, along with strawberry plants and blackberry and grape vines. “Each year we will can, freeze or make fruit preserves,” Monroe explained. “The amount varies each year due to how much he gets before the squirrels or birds get, or how much we have left.“
Virgil also raises lettuce, onions, asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, okra, green beans, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, corn, lima beans, and sometimes butter peas. Some of it is enjoyed as it ripens and some finds its way into a canning jar or the freezer to be consumed later.
“A lot of the things he raises is just for us to have to eat during the summer, but this year we have frozen and canned peaches that we got from the peach truck in town. We have already canned a couple of canning of beans and still have more coming on this week and probably a couple of weeks after that. Our neighbors, Ronnie and Doris Claunch, have a much bigger garden than we do and have shared a lot with us over the years.” Mr. and Mrs. Claunch shared enough tomatoes that the Monroes and Tyler canned pasta sauce, tomato juice and salsa for the year ahead.
“Earlier in the summer, we froze 25 dozen ears of corn (cut off and on the cob) that we purchased from Devine’s farm,” she added. “Usually Virgil raises the corn on our farm in western Kentucky, but the deer, raccoons, and coyotes end up getting more than we do. Virgil and the girls and I have canned a variety of things over the years. Some turn out good and some not so good. I have decided that I’m not good at canning pickles. We did have good luck making watermelon rind pickles once. And one year we raised a bunch of cabbages and made kraut. I love sour kraut, but ours was awful.”
It has been a good summer for produce. “We’ve been blessed by the weather and friends sharing their bounty,” said Tyler.
Tyler loves most vegetables out of the garden – except tomatoes. Her mom even loves tomatoes. “It would be difficult for me to say what my favorite garden vegetable is,” said Monroe. “I love tomatoes but I have rheumatoid arthritis and, unfortunately, if I eat too many it causes painful flare ups. I love strawberries, especially strawberry shortcake.
“I love to preserve the food out of our garden and I enjoy cooking it too. I babysit our grandchildren quite a bit and when they are here and hear me in the kitchen, they usually run to the pantry and get my step stool so they can help. It is nice to be able to say something like, ‘you remember last summer when you helped Pepaw pick these beans and then we broke them and canned them so we could be able to cook them this winter?’”
Another tradition that has been passed down through the family is cooking. Logue and Monroe shared their talents in the kitchen with their daughters and grandchildren. “I do enjoy cooking,” said Tyler. “Probably because my family always encouraged us to be a part of the cooking process. My grandmother would teach (my sister and me) a lot of baking recipes. Mom would always encourage us to fix a meal and plan it out — start to finish. My dad even likes to cook. My kids want to be in the kitchen all the time. At their age, it can be difficult to maneuver with a chair in the middle of the kitchen and to really allow them to cook. They will help in the preparation process a lot. It can be fun and stressful.”
The lives of the Logue, Monroe and Tyler women have taken different paths, but they all three share the love of country and tradition.
“Mom is a perfect example of a homemaker,” said Monroe. “Although we always went to public school, she ‘homeschooled’ us in the summer months by teaching us about nature, gardening and canning. Mom is an excellent seamstress. That was one thing she just wasn’t able to get me to do. She loves to bake, crochet, and read. Our parents always took us to church and made sure we knew all about the Bible.”
Barbara and Kermit Logue lived on a farm in Rose Hill until moving to town several years ago.
Monroe graduated from Mercer, studied business and went on to become the Mercer County PVA. She has been playing the piano since she was 7 and has given lessons for many years. She has also played at church and for her dad and brother’s chorus. She likes to read, knit and take care of her grandchildren. Both retired PVAs, the Monroes enjoy the best of both worlds with a home in Harrodsburg and a farm in Allegre. Along with gardening, Virgil enjoys hunting and fishing.
Like her mother and grandmother, Tyler also loves to read. She has a master’s degree in social work. She currently works at the Mercer County Clerk’s office and attends Harrodsburg Baptist Church, where she teaches the Preschool Sunday School class. Baking has been her stress therapy for many years. Tyler and her husband, Jason, are the parents of Cora, 7, and Caleb, 4.
As summer’s end draws near, the family has new culinary delights ahead to enjoy.
“It’s always sad for me to see summer end,” admits Monroe. “However, when fall and winter comes, it is nice to enjoy the fruits of our labor at meal times. And in the fall you can enjoy things like baked acorn or cushaw squash, or pumpkin and cushaw pies. Pears are usually the last thing we can each year.”
Is cooking an art form? “Yes and no,” said Tyler. “I think cooking must come from the heart. If you don’t have a passion or enjoy it, then you’re not going to put much effort in to it.”
“One of my favorite meals to fix would have to be in mid-summer when you can eat right out of the garden,” noted Monroe. “It really doesn’t matter what kind of meat we have, we just like to see how many things we can serve to go with it fresh from the garden. I think our record was a meal that had 11 garden vegetables and/or fruits we had raised.
“I don’t think I’m all that great of a cook,” she added. “I just like plain country cooking. I suppose cooking is an art and knowing how to prepare food from the garden to the table is a skill that is passed down from one generation to the next. I hope I’m doing my part to ensure that happens in my family.”
Cooking and preserving food binds together these generations of women. Their hope is that the tradition continues with those that follow.