Shirley Shadden’s car is squeezed into a space between shelves and shelves of canned food.
“I like to see my shelves full when wintertime comes,” she said. Canning is the way to go for delicious food year-round, she added.
Raised on a 600-acre farm at Candies Creek, Shadden learned early how to can. Back then, she said, they canned meats and everything. “And always in glass,” she added. “I still can like my mother taught me,” she said.
When she was about 9 years old, her mother was taken ill and little Shirley had to take over some of the household duties. Canning was one of those duties and “probably the most fun,” she remembers. She said the first thing she canned was green beans and “I still can the same way,” she said.
A Cleveland native, Shadden was still in school when her family moved to Chattanooga so her dad could work at Combustion Engineering. She stayed with her aunt in Cleveland so she could finish school, and graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1958. At 18, she went to work at Duplan, a nylon plant, where she stayed 17 years, then 25 years at Maytag before retiring. But canning has always been a part of her life.
Shadden said she probably spends at least one to two days a week canning when the vegetables are coming in. On her list are green beans (three different kinds), pinto beans, soup and soup beginnings, tomatoes, jams and jellies, pickles, beets, relish (squash and cumcumber) canned squash, salsa and her famous chow chow. This week, she added a few jars of new potatoes. Except for jam and jelly, everything is pressure canned.
Most of her canning is done at the cannery on Peerless Road, close by where she and her family have sold fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market for years. All the equipment anyone would need is available, including six pressure cookers (116 quarts at a time), water bath cookers and steamers. All a customer has to do is furnish the jars. The cannery, which started in 1972, turns out to be a great place for socializing as the customers talk about the canning and help each other.
Shadden said that is the place to do canning. It’s air conditioned, all the equipment is available and everything is so convenient, she said. “I just have a good time there.”
What Shadden cans in the summer gets eaten during the winter, but it’s usually more than she can use. That doesn’t count what’s in her freezers, which is shared, along with canned good, with friends and neighbors. That’s part of the fun of canning, Shadden said.
No one visits the Shaddens and goes away empty-handed.
Her chow-chow is probably the most sought after. No matter how much Shadden makes, it just seems to disappear too quickly. But don’t ask for her recipe, although she shares the procedure and ingredients: “I use hot and sweet peppers, green tomatoes and onions; soak overnight with vinegar and sugar, and then can in the usual manner,” she said. If ever one samples the chow-chow, they’re hooked. She uses the same procedure for her cucumber relish, but she uses only cucumbers, onion and peppers with the sugar and vinegar mixture.
Shadden said she simply enjoys canning — “I like to see it all canned and arranged on the shelves.” She said she likes to look at it, but it’s “better to eat.” Her husband, J.T., and the family agree, saying their favorites are green beans and salsa.
Her store of canned goods wasespecially appreciated during J.T.’s bout with cancer and back problems, and Shirley’s knee replacement surgeries. And now she is restocking the shelves.
The Shaddens have two sons: Jeff and his wife, Robin, and their sons, Logan and Luke; and Brent and his wife, Mitzi, and their two sons, Logan and Patrick. Shirley said it takes “a few jars” to get them through the winter. But looking at her storehouse, that will be no problem.