Natalie Kennedy and Ann Smith's mother used to cook food outdoors in an open kettle before canning it. She didn't use the extra step of putting full jars into a boiling water bath. And she sealed jams with paraffin wax. Now the Morgan County, Tennessee sisters are learning the latest food safety techniques for canning. They've gone back to school on the site where their mother earned a dollar per week as a school cook. The once-rebuilt Deer Lodge School hasn't really been a school for a few decades, but it serves as a community center for gatherings like the free canning class for local residents.
Most of the participants received seeds this spring from the Morgan-Scott Project's seed distribution program. Now they're gathering food from their gardens and preserving it at home. In this remote rural area, everyone's a neighbor. When I asked Daisy Inman what she'd be canning this year, she replied while pointing to the other women, "Whatever I can get out of my garden, and out of her garden, and out of her garden. We all share."
Sisters Natalie Kennedy and Ann Smith
Morgan-Scott funds the one-day class that's led by Family Consumer Science and 4-H Director Crystal Blankenship with the University of Tennessee Extension Service's Morgan County office. 80-year-old Kennedy says the newer techniques like the boiling water bath for jams and metal lids for everything are good to know. "I wanted to come again and see if they'd canned anything different. We did green beans last year, and you can always learn things." Another participant tells me that they all learn from each other, in addition to whatever they learn from the university's materials.
This class is making tomato salsa, plus a peach and plum combination jam. A dozen women are sharing the tasks of blanching and cutting fruit, stirring pots and watching timers. Phyllis Clowers keeps watch on the written instructions. She and Morgan-Scott
volunteer Tana Slater ask Blankenship if the water is boiling enough yet. Some attendees say they've been teaching their own adult children about canning food, although they don't all find time for it.
|Phyllis Clowers, Crystal Blankenship,|
Morgan-Scott Volunteer Tana Slater
Blankenship says canning is definitely making a comeback. "It is busy and a lot of people are working outside the home now. But also we are going to a more sustainable economy, which means growing our own food, taking care of ourselves. More people are gardening now. And once you get the initial cost of canning out of the way, which is the pressure canner, the water bath canner and the supplies, every year after that it's not very costly at all, because you're growing your own food. It's healthier, it tastes better, and it's fun."
Margaret Patterson and Charlona Jones
|Irene Hurst |
Blankenship reminds me that even if I can't grow all of my own food, I can find something fresh at the Farmers' Market to can. As for mistakes for beginning canners, some can be remedied. She says I have 24 hours after canning something to reprocess food if it didn't seal properly. Blankenship says shelf life is about a year for items stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry, with six months being a good limit for jams before they might begin to weep. She suggests a free resource about canning from the University of Tennessee Extension Service
Labels: eating better, farm, garden, grow, local, sustainable