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006I’ve spent the last three weeks canning various vegetables from my garden and fruit from my favorite local farmers’ market. The other day when I was canning green beans I started thinking about Aunt Bessie–not that she’s ever far from my mind these days as Christy and I work on Beloved Woman, Appalachian Journey Book 3–and how Daddy told me she canned everything. And I do mean everything, squirrel (ew!), sausage, soups and stews, jams and jellies, pickles,and of course, vegetables she grew in her garden. He told me one of her favorite ways to preserve food was stringing “leather britches” of string beans but he said she also canned them.

When I can green beans I use a pressure canner which is recommended for safety purposesand I found myself wondering if Aunt Bessie had a pressure canner. So after I put the jars in the pressure canner and started the timer, I decided to do a little research on canning procedures back in the early 1900s. I learned a few interesting facts:

First, just as I suspected, pressure canners weren’t available to the public until about 1917 or so andpressure_canner when I called Daddy he said Aunt Bessie always used a boiling water canner. My next question was how did she can green beans and other low-acid foods that require a pressue canner today. So I moved on to the history of home food preservation and that’s where I found a goldmine of interesting information.

Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_Study_at_the_Tuileries_-_Google_Art_ProjectFrom Pick Your Own: Napolean is often credited with the invention of modern canning: in 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. Nicolas Appert suggested canning and the process was first proven in 1806. Until 1858, canning jars used a glass jar, a tin flat lid, and sealing wax, which was not reusable and messy!

Napolean? Wow, never would’ve guessed that!

On the Freund Container & Supply – A Visual History of the Mason Jar (very cool timeline) site I learnedcanning-jars-8.14.13 about the Mason jars we all know and love–they’re not just for canning anymore! They were invented in the early 1800s by John L. Mason who perfected and patented them in 1858. When the patent expired around 1880, other jars followed, including the Lightning Jar (the ones with the metal clamp around the glass lid), Ball jars and then Kerr jars. And the lids went through several transformations, too.

And from Early History of USDA Home Canning Recommendations (I believe this is a site out of the University of Georgia):

BallCannerIt was recognized that bacteria may be killed at the temperature of boiling water, but that spores retain vitality for long times at that temperature and will germinate upon cooling. The type of sterilizing heat process recommended was fractional sterilization – “the whole secret of canning” (Breazeale, 1909). The complete sterilization of a vegetable required that one heat the vegetable in the jar to the boiling point of water and maintain that temperature for one hour each of two or three successive days. The first day of boiling was to kill molds and almost all the bacteria, but not spores. The spores were thought to germinate upon cooling, and boiling the second and third days killed the new bacteria. If fractional sterilization were not practiced, about five hours of boiling on the first day was recommended.

Yikes! Three days or five hours to can green beans? I love green beans but three days? Like a lot of things we’ve been researching; washing clothes and ironing for example, it sure was a lot harder to can back then. Would I have done it? Probably since that was the only way to preserve food but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I do today. For me, canning is more like a hobby. It’s one of the few forms of cooking I really enjoy. But back when Aunt Bessie was doing it, it was a job–and a hard job at that. Just makes me admire her and all the women of that time period more than I already did!

historymcdowellcountyIt’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with research. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been on the hate end but yesterday, I opened up a book, History of McDowell County by Mildred B. Fossett, I checked out of the library almost two weeks ago. I started flipping through it without much interest…until I found a chapter about schools in McDowell County and at the end there was a list: Former Teachers of McDowell County. Guess who was on that list. Yep, that’s right, Bessie Elliott. It didn’t give any more information like when she taught or what school she taught at, but she was there and it was enough to spark our interest again.

This next bit needs a bit of backstory; from the very first when Christy and I came up with the idea of writing Whistling Woman, we’ve been convinced that Aunt Bessie was sitting at our side guiding our hands as we typed. It’s as if she wanted, and sometimes demanded, her story be told. So we told it, the first part of it anyway, and mostly, we enjoyed every single minute of it. And we knew, we knew, the whole time we were writing it that it was right. We could almost see Aunt Bessie’s smile. But after we finished Whistling Woman and moved on to Moonfixer, the next book in the series, it was as if Aunt Bessie deserted us and writing her life story became more of a chore than a pleasure.

In fact, up until yesterday, I likened writing Moonfixer to trying to shave my legs with only a pair of tweezers…a long, arduous, painful, and almost impossible task. But now…ah, now, Aunt Bessie is back and I can’t wait to see where she leads us this time. Of course, we pretty much know the story and even had the book almost finished, right down to the last line, but it just wasn’t working somehow. It didn’t feel right, didn’t feel like we were telling it the right way.

It’s like I always tell my husband when he asks why I read books over and over again when I already know how they end: it’s not the end that counts, it’s the getting there. To us, the journey is everything and knowing Aunt Bessie, she’ll take us on a heck of a journey with this one, just like she did the last one.

So, here’s to the year of the Moonfixer…part deux!

Oops, I just Googled that phrase to make sure I spelled it right and one of the definitions is an “overly bad sequel.” Yikes! So maybe we should say here’s to the year of the Moonfixer…new and improved version!

the world hasn’t ended which means I need to finish my Christmas shopping! Not that I thought it really would end but still, you never know, do you? And the day isn’t over yet so I think I’ll wait till tomorrow.

Anyway, with all the dire predictons about the end of the world, I spent the last couple of days doing something I enjoyed instead of cleaning house or shopping for Christmas presents: I’ve been researching and believe me, that is something I never thought I’d hear myself say…er, see myself type. I used to hate research so much that I avoided it if at all possible. I mean to the point that it impacted the type of books I wrote. Why write historical with all that nasty research when you can write paranormal and make all that stuff up?

John Warren Daniels

John Warren Daniels

But that changed when Christy and I started doing the research on Whistling Woman. I’m pretty sure it’s because we were researching people who we knew or people who, like that butterfly in the rain forest, may’ve only gently flapped their wing and it sent a ripple through our lives by way of our ancestors. People like our great-grandfather, John Warren Daniels, one of the main characters in Whistling Woman. Isn’t he a handsome devil? Whistling Woman was a four year labor of love and most of those four years were given over to research. We knew we had to get the background and historical facts right and so we buckled down with our computers or traveled to Hot Springs, Marshall, and various other points in Madison County and talked to a lot of people who were all very helpful.And now, we’re getting ready to do it all over again with Moonfixer, the second book in the Appalachian Journey series. Only this time, we’ll be traveling to the Broad River section of North Carolina and though we’ll still be walking in the footsteps of our ancestors, we’ll also be walking in places we’ve been before; Black Mountain, Old Fort, Stone Mountain, the graveyard at Stone Mountain Missionary Baptist Church (click the link for a wonderful picture of the church from the Majdan Family History page) where many of our characters are buried.

Strangely enough, I find myself looking forward to it–which is how I ended up spending what could’ve been the last two days of my life doing research. Who would’ve ever thought I’d enjoy every minute of it?

Chasing the Brown Mountain Lights

Into the Brown Mountain Lights

Seeking the Brown Mountain Lights

Through the Brown Mountain Lightss

Brown Mountain Lights Book 1

Wise Woman

Appalachian Journey Book 4

Beloved Woman

Appalachian Journey Book 3


Appalachian Journey Book 2

Whistling Woman

Appalachian Journey Book 1

Madchen, die pfeifen

Whistling Woman (German)

Les deces arrivant toujours par trois

Whistling Woman (French)

Christy Tillery French Cynthia Tillery Hodges