Yes, we can!
Upcoming canning workshops help Chicoans preserve summer’s harvest
Earlene Eisley and Baji Hantelman—who will be hosting two canning workshops this month—both used exactly the same words when, in separate interviews, they described their childhood canning experiences: “I hated it.”
Eisley recalls sitting on a kitchen stool in her Auburn home as a child, helping her mother can. “I remember sitting on the flippin’ stool … [to] watch the gauge on the pressure canner,” she said, laughing. She was speaking by phone from Eisley Nursery in Auburn, a family operation in business for more than 80 years.
Eisley is now a master food preserver, a title bestowed on her by the UC Cooperative Extension through its Master Food Preserver classes in El Dorado County—and she’s bringing her canning knowledge to Hodge’s Nursery in Durham for a free workshop this Saturday (Aug. 17).
“Now I’m canning in the same kitchen that I said that I would never can in again!” she exclaimed.
Hantelman’s mother did some canning also, but Hantelman said she “hated it because it was stinky; it had vinegar-and-pickle smell—yuck!” Her canning expertise stems from about 25 years of preserving the vegetables and fruit she and her husband, Richard Coon, grow at Wookey Ranch in north Chico. Figuring out “how are we going to preserve all this stuff we were growing,” was their motivation, she said.
Hantelman is heading up two canning workshops on Aug. 26 and 28 through Cultivating Community North Valley as part of a series on food preservation.
Both canning experts will be teaching the boiling-water-bath method of canning.
“We’ll actually go through the process of putting something in a jar, sealing it up, sticking it in the pot, timing it out, and having them come out and [hear the lid-seal] go pop!” said Hantelman. Boiling-water baths are appropriate for high-acid foods, like certain fruits, tomato sauces, and pickled vegetables packed in an acidic brine.
“You have to pressure-can vegetables” (except those that are pickled) using a pressure canner, noted Eisley, a method that will not be covered in these courses.
Not all tomato or fruit recipes are suited for the water bath, though; if a batch of salsa has too many onions, the acidity may get too low to kill botulinum, a tasteless, odorless and deadly bacteria that can survive in canned foods even after boiling, and cause botulism. Exactly following modern recipes designed for canning (UC extensions offer plenty online, as do many new books on food preservation) will ensure the food maintains the right level of acidity. Plus, notes Eisley, although Butte County does not offer a Master Food Preserver course (the closest is in Sacramento County) Chicoans can still call the Master Food Preserver helpline (see column note). They’ll call back with an answer within 24 hours.
“A lot of [recipes and techniques] that I had learned as a kid, [don’t] apply anymore,” said Eisley. “Tomato acidities have changed over the years. They’ve hybridized it out in a lot of them. And so you have to counterbalance that by adding lemon juice or vinegar, because it has to be 5 percent acidity.”
After taking the Master Food Preserver course, Eisley decided to make her nursery the go-to spot for canning supplies and information. Her longtime friends and nursery colleagues, Ken and Shelly Hodge, have followed suit. Hodge’s Nursery—where Eisley will teach her workshop—recently began offering jars and canning books, alongside gardening gloves and heirloom seeds, in Shelly’s gift shop in the nursery.
While snacking on ripe Dapple Dandy pluots from their demonstration garden recently, Shelly and Ken said their adult daughter in Nashville, Tenn., encouraged them to include canning at the nursery a few years ago.
“Her friends were getting into that,” said Shelly. “She said, ‘Mom, it’s the most natural step for you and Dad to take’—to show people what they can do after they grow everything.”
Shelly noted that when the baby-boomer generation of women went to work, canning was largely abandoned due mostly to its inconvenience. Subsequently, many people interested in doing it today are picking up the methods from books and workshops—not from their parents.
“A lot of people in their early thirties are really interested” in canning, Ken said. Shelly plans to offer more canning workshops and even canning parties—during which several people prep, cook and can together, and then split the jars.
Despite its huge upswing in popularity, indicated by growing sales of Ball canning jars and a slew of new books on canning with catchy titles like Put ’em Up! and You Can Can, plenty of home vegetable gardeners aren’t signing up.
For some, the hassle of canning—and having to heat up the house to boil jars in the middle of August—doesn’t match the convenience of storing food in an energy-efficient chest freezer.
But Hantelman sees a benefit. “There are some things that are just nicer canned than when they are frozen,” she offered—like peaches. “If you go to the trouble of canning a peach … and you put them in a really light sugar syrup, then they get that really yummy texture. They’re delicious that way.
“Frozen peaches? The best thing you can do with them is to put them in a smoothie.” Similarly, Eisley recalls the flavors of her childhood, like her mom’s canned orange-spiced pears.
Also, canned food is shelf-stable—should a winter storm knock the power out for several days and leave all the food in the freezer defrosted, the canned food will still be preserved.
Plus, Hantelman pointed out, “It’s awfully nice to be able to preserve the harvest on your very own shelf.”