Grandmother’s Fair Beans Still Green After All These Years

2010 Kitsap County Fair canning entries. Photo by Meegan Reid

If you walked past the rows of pickles and peaches, beans, jams and other canned goods affixed with little blue, red and black ribbons at the Kitsap County Fair, think of this: How would all of these cans look in 50 years?

The first image that came to my head was of fruits so disintegrated they became mere goo and pickles left discolored and waxy.

Then, after meeting with Kevin Masters, all those images faded away when he showed me the beans below. Before you scroll too far, take a guess at how old they  are (come on, no cheating, though there’s no real punishment if you do).

Since I mentioned 50 years earlier, is that what you guessed? Wrong! Try 81.

Masters’ grandmother, Josephine Cameron (maiden name Kuntz), grew up in Silverdale in the days when the area was full of farms and chickens. She used to candle eggs, holding a light behind them to check for forming chicks. And as many women of her generation did, she canned.

She canned a variety of things from vegetables grown in her garden to tuna fish and a plum sauce that “was sweet and tasty and had a little tang to it,” unlike the oversweetened options in modern grocery stories, Masters said. That plum sauce was his favorite. He used to bring emptied jars of preserved food and trade her for filled ones.

She entered her goods in the Kitsap County Fair for years until she started judging the contests.

“I guess when you know everything, that’s when you start judging,” Masters said.

But Kitsap’s wasn’t the only fair she entered.

In 1929 the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup had been going strong for 29 years. That year, Arabian horses, photographs of New York and Romanian peasant costumes were among the things to see. Members of the Wynoochee Valley grange had carefully arranged fruits and vegetables in tiered rows and in boxes and set before a fan of gathered grains, on their way to a first prize grange exhibit.

And Josephine Cameron prepared a can of long, thin green beans, which she probably grew Masters said. They won a blue ribbon.

Masters wasn’t sure what recipe she used, and any food safety expert will tell you that as pretty as they still are, they definitely should not be taste-tested at this point. But even years after her death – she died in 1993 – when Masters talks about that jar and his grandmother her memory seemed just as well-preserved as those green beans.

Masters used to have the beans displayed on a shelf in his home, with accompanying cans of yellow wax beans and less-colorful cherries. But he’s since moved them to a more protected place, to preserve the color.