A Clay County homemaker-turned-entrepreneur keeps rural foodcraft alive. And people eat it up.
Growing up in clay county, Evelyn McGlothlin canned alongside her mother for their family of seven. She continued the practice after she had her own family—six children in 10 years—canning hundreds of jars each year of home-grown harvest, wild-picked berries, and hunted meats. She was working two full-time jobs when she started Ordinary Evelyn’s 20 years ago. She’s now 73 and still going strong. You won’t believe how many jars of vegetables, jellies, and other delectables she cans each year. ordinaryevelyns.com
I didn’t even work outside the home until my two youngest ones were in high school, and I only went to work then because my husband had gotten hurt working in the coal mines. I went to work in a local deli in Clay, at the IGA. I worked there six years and then went to work as a school cook and worked there 19 years. So I’ve always cooked.
About 1996 my youngest daughter went to Tamarack and she called me and said, “Mom, you know all those things you make and give away? Well, they’re selling them here.” She contacted the Department of Agriculture about how to do it. They took a while convincing me that I could sell my products—I didn’t realize there were all these places that people were selling these things.
I do the cooking and my husband puts on lids and does all the labeling. A grandson and his girlfriend come in and help me sometimes when I need to make a lot, like in the fall months. Mostly family members help out—you can pay them with a jar of jelly, you know. If family members can’t help when I do a craft show, I have other people that help me. And I have a young man who comes in and makes my mixes, for cheeseballs and dip and salsa and chili. I’d rather be cooking.
Two years ago I sat down at the end of the season and thought, I’ll see how many jars I actually bought last year. I’d bought 950 dozen (editor’s exclamation: That’s 11,400 jars!). It’s probably about the same in the years since then. When I retire I’m going to go through all my invoices and see how many jars I actually bought altogether.
This would be complete drudgery to someone who just wants to make some money. You’re not going to get rich at it. Not at all. I really, really enjoy cooking and canning, but I also enjoy the camaraderie of it. I like doing shows and meeting people and talking. And it’s not that I want someone to brag on me, but then it’s good when someone comes along and says, “This is the best—I came here just for this.” I especially hear that with my apple butter.
Running a business is nothing I ever imagined doing or wanted to do. It just all came together slowly. I never thought I would ever get this busy. I didn’t know there was a market out there for home-canned goods.
Canning was a necessity when I grew up, but I’m afraid it’s a dying art. I hope not. I’ve shown my grandchildren and my kids how to can. My boys can. I have one son, he’s married, but his wife just never enjoyed it, so he cans all the time. I believe more people are getting back into the gardening and wanting their home-raised vegetables and fruits. But I’d really like to see more of our young people get into preserving their food.
interviewed by pam kasey
photographed by zack harold