top of page

The Cannery Cookery

(by Melanie Chartoff)

My mother was a so-so cook, but a top-notch clerical worker. So she alphabetized all the canned goods stored in our basement bomb shelter by my father. Except for the ones he bought at half price because they had lost their labels.

For those 20-cent mystery tins, Mom typed up tidy ID tags with the dates that Dad had purchased them. We'd have guessing games about the contents based on their sizes compared to the labeled ones. Flat, rectangular tins with their cute keys for opening were easy: sardines. Big round canisters with wind-around tabs: coffee. Mom made sketches of the possible contents of the identically shaped unknowns in colored pencils. She Scotch-taped this informational art on hundreds of tins and later on aluminum cans, most of which Dad bought panic-shopping during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And she’d rotate all of them often so the oldest purchased would be used up first. No can went rancid on my mom’s watch. She tabulated that our fallout shelter coul