Originally, the whole food-preserving thing came from the idealistic notion that our garden would produce more than we could consume (which didn't exactly happen this year). I signed up for a canning class at The Kitchen Conservatory that was taught by a local urban farmer. I enjoyed the class, not just for the canning techniques, but the general cooking info and recipes as well. Also, it settled all those initial fears about canning - you know, the voice that says, "I'd love to give preserves & sauces as holiday gifts." Then quickly follows with, "Nothing says I love you like the gift of botulism." Turns out, if you follow some pretty common sense guidelines, canning is actually really easy. Sterilize your jars, use the correct equipment, and follow tried & true recipes.
While in the class, I was working with another couple prepping some onions when I mentioned that I got my boyfriend a pressure canner for our anniversary (yeah, we're that kind of couple). Turns out, they're that kind of couple too, so we chatted after the class & picked a day for the four of us to get together and try our hand at some of this. Still awaiting the big boom of the garden, we decided to hit the farmer's market in Tower Grove for our "Canning Day" ingredients. A general tip for the market - if you want a deal on large amounts of produce, get there later in the day. The vendors may be willing to sell you the rest of what they have for a bit less. If you're looking for specific items and need a certain amount (as we did), arrive earlier for a better selection.
- The first lesson we learned is to not attempt too many recipes at once.
We decided on 5 recipes between 4 of us and, in retrospect, I wouldn't have tried more than 3 in a day. It ended up being a fun but tiring 8 hour event, which none of us anticipated, though we certainly got a lot of food out of it!
- Prep work can take a long time, especially for something like salsa or pasta sauce. Time the work so there's always at least 2 things going at once. For instance, while the salsa ingredients are being prepped, jars can be put in boiling water for sterilization.
We had a few periods where we were standing in the hot kitchen just waiting for one thing to finish so something else could be started.
- Always, always, always wear gloves when working with hot peppers!
Learned the hard way by means of fingers that burned for 6 hours, not to mention the accidental touch of fingers to face. If this happens, try putting vinegar, milk, or lemon juice on the affected area.
- If you compost, this is a great day to fill your bin with kitchen scraps.
The other couple may have thought we were crazy, but we took home a giant bag of all the kitchen scraps from the day. The compost looks better than ever for it!
- Don't fear the pressure canner.
This seemed daunting at first, but we followed the step-by-step directions and had no problems at all.
Recipes included canned corn, dill pickles, spicy tomato salsa, pepper marmalade, and pasta sauce.