Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Sunday, June 29, 2014

About me: Why do I can?

This is a question I am asked quite often. "Why do you can?"  Well, why not? 

Canning has been part of "me" for years. Once part of every homemaker's routine, modern convenience, dual income families and busy schedules pushed canning to the back burner. It began "something Grandma did" and over time became a lost food art. But there is something special and rewarding about seeing the shelves lined with those beautiful jars of colorful food. The hours of hard work, time spent over a steaming kettle of water, waiting for the weighted gauge to jiggle, and listening to the musical ping of sealing jars makes it all worth it. Throw in the various social media groups of other canners and I have become good friends with loads of people all over the world, all with a common passion- canning.

As I have gotten older I no longer have the really big garden like I once did, and I don't have the variety of vegetables and fruits as before. These days I love spending an afternoon at the pick-your-own farm loading up a couple hundred pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and take my bounty home to spend a couple days making salsa, pickles and canned tomatoes of all kinds. I stock up on berries when they are in season or on sale and freeze them for jams and jellies later. Generous friends with way too much rhubarb or a yard full of apple trees always offer all the freebies we can pick. As the garden season comes to an end, the pick-your-own farm has a free pick day and friends with an abundance of green tomatoes give them away by the box full. Any given day you can stop by my house and find piles of beautiful produce waiting to be transformed.

I have very generous friends, with lots of apple trees!
Another benefit of home-canning is having control over what goes in our food. I carefully examine the vegetables for bad spots and spoilage- something a factory assembly line cannot guarantee. Nothing chemical or artificial goes into my home canned foods. The glass jars don't leave that metallic taste some commercially canned foods have and the jars are reusable. Chemical-free and recyclable containers- that's a pretty good couple of reasons right there! Don't get me wrong, we aren't health nuts or anti-GMO protesters or chemical-free advocates at all, but it's nice to know we're eating fresh, wholesome food.

Creativity comes into play as well. I can make fruit combinations for jams that you would never find in a store. Pickled vegetable combinations are up to me. I can turn up the heat in salsa by adding different, hotter peppers to get just the right melt-your-face-off heat that we love so much. Keep in mind, when you start to play with and alter tested recipes you may be venturing off into uncharted waters. I am willing to take this risk for myself because I feel like I make SAFE choices and don't change things that make foods unsafe for canning at home. You should know, however, that if you ONLY want to use tested and approved recipes, many of these are not. I stick very very close to the tested versions though, for safety's sake, and never sell any of my home canned foods. 

Nothing boosts a person's self esteem more than winning, and entering jars of home canned foods in the county fair is a great way for me to get that little pat on the back I sometimes need. Everything from humble green beans to elaborate relishes and conserves get loaded into boxes and displayed on shelves in the Guthrie County Fair's Arts Building. I entered for the first time in 2013 and was surprised to win several ribbons! I've already planned my entries for 2014 and am looking forward to seeing what my results are this year.

Just a few of the entries for the 2014 Guthrie County Fair
So what is on my canning agenda for the summer season of 2014? Lots of fun things. I have been searching high and low for gooseberries for a very special recipe I have been working on for two years. As always, loads and loads of tomatoes. Last year I ended up with a few odd zucchini and tomatoes at the end of the summer and I canned them together with garlic- NOW, heated up and tossed with some pasta I have a delicious, meat-free meal in the time it takes to cook the pasta, so this year I will be making that on purpose! I am hoping to make some jams with foraged fruits and berries too, now that I have the wild plums pinned down (and the trees are BRIMMING with unripe plums right now) and loads of mulberry trees and wild blackberry brambles everywhere. I might even get lucky and find some wild grapes this year too.

So.......why do YOU can?

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