Canning is a sustainable way to extend the season
Think the only way to eat tomatoes in February is to buy them from Mexico? Marcia Litsinger just goes to her cupboard and opens a jar.
“Waste not, want not,” Litsinger said numerous times during a recent, three-hour, Preserving Your Harvest canning workshop she conducted at the River School. The week prior, she and her husband, Steve, both certified organic farmers, taught a pickling class there. This time, it was canned tomatoes, applesauce, salsa, a summer squash soup and blackberry preserves.
Monica McKee manned the immersion blender that turned boiled apples and pears into a sweet and spicy pear-applesauce. “I crochet and sew and do all that stuff, so I figured I should learn how to do this, too,” she said. “My grandmother used to make strawberry jelly and pickles.”
Her grandmother. One does tend to think of the gray-haired set when the word “canning” comes up. And yet, this resourceful way of using everything the growing season offers—and eating it long after it’s over—has made a comeback of sorts. Jars filled with a variety of homegrown red, yellow and green produce are lining the shelves and freezers of not just grandmothers, but their children and grandchildren, as well. An abundance of new canning cookbooks can help the modern canner figure out how to preserve everything from simple tomatoes to green olive tapenade. Long-discarded cookbooks at used bookstores work just as well.
Of course, if the roughly 15 participants at this workshop just wanted to learn from a book, they wouldn’t have come to this class. It’s a hands-on, get-your-fingers-peeling-cutting-and-dripping-with-tomato-juice kind of class. They sliced, cored, and cut away the brown spots of wormy apples. They stripped the thin skins of boiled tomatoes. They boiled and stirred blackberries. They called for more garlic in the salsa. Along the way, they learned about some of the safety issues involved with canning, such as jar sterilization, and using lemon juice or citric acid to prevent botulism while canning. Botulism is deadly, so new canners should consult the USDA guidelines before starting out. At the end of the day, everyone got to take a jar of the day’s efforts home.
Canning can be time-consuming, but it’s not as difficult as newbies might think. For instance, to make simple canned tomatoes, these are the basic steps: Boil enough tomatoes to fill sterilized (can be done in the dishwasher) jars for about 30 seconds to loosen the skins. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Peel. Fill the jars, leaving about one-quarter inch of space to the lid. Add about a half teaspoon of lemon juice. Put on the lids and caps. Place in boiling hot water bath for about 40-45 minutes; the “ping” of the jars’ lids reaching suction point will let you know they’re ready. If the jars don’t seal, either reprocess, or place in the fridge to eat within the week.
Instructions for canning each type of produce varies, so follow the recipe.
Even if you aren’t blessed with a garden full of out-of-control bumper crops, now is a prime time to stock up at a farmers’ market and bring home some goods to can. There’s a remarkable satisfaction that comes from taking part in such a timeless, practical process. And when the chill sets in this winter, you’ll just need to open a jar to smell and taste the summer.