We did a lot of canning growing up. All four of us kids helped out: pitting cherries, snapping beans and shucking corn. My dad did the planting, and we all helped tend the gardens while my mom did the canning and preserving. I remember watching her in the kitchen; it always seemed to be a scorching hot summer day that was compounded by the fact that we had no air-conditioning and there were giant pots of boiling water and pressure cookers steaming everywhere. It was amazing to see this giant production. It was like she was conducting a symphony of stoves, produce, pots, jars, spices, sugars and vinegars. I loved to watch her; it hypnotized me in a way. Besides being amazed at how she mastered all these moving parts, I also felt her love and care. She never worked with resentment, she performed the process to make sure she could feed her family.
As an adult, I began my own journey to learn the art of canning and preserving. I was lucky enough to embark on this journey before my mom passed away, as I was able to pick her brain for canning tips and tricks. When I first began to can, I remember my mom looking at me like I was crazy. When we were able to afford to go to the grocery store, she stopped canning altogether and never looked back. With having four kids to feed, the convenience of going to the store and buying a jar of pickles outweighed any benefits to making them herself.
I remember saying to my mom, “People romanticize these days about how we grew up; they even have a name for it. They call it 'Homesteading.' To which my mom responded, 'Really? We just called it being poor'." My mom was one special lady and canning brings me closer to her and that is one of the many reasons I love it.
I think that the idea of canning and preserving and all the equipment and production involved in it (giant canning pots, loads of canning jars, fresh produce piled high, mounds of spices and sugar, vinegars, pressure cookers and all the mess, stress and joy) can easily overwhelm people. You also have all the fears of food safety stoked by the food manufacturers that can seem rather frightening.
The Chopping Block has offered basic classes in canning for years with the hope that we could simplify canning and make it approachable. In our Summer Canning and Preserving Workshop, we teach recipes and techniques that are easy to master such as Dill Pickles, Peach-Vanilla Jam, Red and Green Hot Pepper Jelly and Homemade Salsa. These are approachable recipes that don’t require much special equipment and that can be mastered in a few hours.
But now, for the first time, we are expanding on the more introductory classes and offering a Canning Boot Camp. The idea of our new class is to dive into some more in-depth subjects such as canning fresh tomatoes, canning and preserving meat (canned meat was my personal favorite growing up), using a pressure cooker over a water bath, use of paraffin wax (My mom used wax on jam. I remember one year she ran out of jars and used all the glasses and coffee cups in the entire house, we had to eat the jam so we could get a glass to drink some water!). Clearly these classes are very personal to me as is the subject of canning and preserving, I hope you’ll consider joining us for an upcoming class, and you just might catch the canning bug!
Although canning can be done all year, the height of the harvest season is when we think of canning in the Midwest. This week I started canning my early tomatoes, put up my Chicago Style Giardiniera (look for that recipe in my next blog), fermenting dill pickles and made my very favorite fruit preserve apricot. I've shared a spattering of those images for some canning inspiration.
Join us for Canning and Preserving Workshop tomorrow at the Mart and Canning Boot Camp on Saturday, September 21 at the Mart. We are limiting the enrollment for this class to just eight students, so you are sure to get lots of personalized attention from the chef!
We also have a free guide so you can get started or practice canning, preserving and fermenting techniques at home. Download our Preserving Food: Let's Can, Pickle and Ferment.