Martha Sessions of Mobile County says she doesn’t cook as much as she once did, but she still enjoys preserving the fresh fruits and vegetables her family grows on their farm in Grand Bay.
“I still use the same pressure cooker for preserving that my mother used when I was young, helping her can summer fruits and vegetables,” she says. “The cooker belonged to my grandfather, and he used to always say my mother could just borrow it, but it was his cooker. I don’t think it left my mother’s kitchen though until it came to mine.”
Martha says she grew up watching her mother cook, but didn’t do much of it herself until she was older.
“I did some things in the kitchen as I got older, but I was really just mother’s helper when it came to cooking. It was the same with the canning, too. I learned a lot just by watching her,” she says.
Martha wasn’t the only one who picked up her mother’s canning skills. “My brother, Joe Hilley, comes to help me can during the summer,” she said. “Last year, we put up 60 quarts of green beans.”
Martha’s husband, Art, serves as a director for the Mobile County Farmers Federation. He and his brother, David, farm the same land their father worked, as well as acreage acquired since. The family raises cattle, cotton, pecans and peanuts on their farm, in addition to the fresh produce they sell to grocery stores and produce stands.
But Martha says one of the most rewarding aspects of their business is selling at the farmers market. “We’ve had greenhouses for over 10 years now, “ she says. “So, much of what we sell at the market was started from seed in the greenhouse and taken to the field and then to the market.”
Martha encourages everyone to visit their local markets for fresh produce and to try preserving their favorites to enjoy throughout the year.
“Canning and freezing is not difficult, and you don’t need a large freezer or a lot of equipment to do it,” she said. “Your local Cooperative Extension Office has all the tips and techniques you need for freezing and canning, and using the information provided inside a box of Sure-Jell keeps jelly-making simple.”
The recipes that follow are mostly from a family cookbook a relative compiled several years ago, but Martha also offers a few tips of her own.
“I try not to put up more than my family will eat in a year, and I like to turn jars upside down while the heat seals them,” she says. “And an easy way to get juice for making peach jelly is to save the peelings from peaches I’m freezing. I cover them with water and boil for 30 minutes, then pour off the liquid and use a potato masher to remove the juice left in the peelings.”