When I was a child I loved to walk down the stairs to the basement of my grandmother's apartment building and look at the rows and rows of vegetables and fruits stored in glass jars.
And when I was older and had my own basement, I would shop at farmers markets and bring home baskets of food to can – it was a way of capturing summer in a jar and a remembrance of my grandmother who taught me to cook.
But with kids and a job, I stopped canning and I guess a lot of people did as well. But now, food preservation, with its feel of history and connection to the soil, is undergoing a renewal as many of us hanker for this almost lost agricultural art.
“I think it’s becoming more and more popular,” says Corinne Powell, Extension Educator, Health and Human Sciences at Purdue Cooperative Extension Service Lake County in Crown Point. Powell teaches food preservation classes.
“People are really into it. They’re doing more gardening and have all this produce and want to do something with it.”
In another harbinger of an increase in home preservation, after John Mason patented the invention of the Mason jar in 1858, a number of companies began manufacturing the jars – Kerr, Atlas, Golden Harvest, Knox and Ball to name a few – but over time, as interest waned, companies went out of business or were sold. But a few years back Wal-Mart introduced Mainstays, its own brand of jars.
But while our grandmothers put away tomatoes and green beans in these glass jars, all worthy produce to preserve, many trendy chefs like Edward Lee, three-time James Beard Foundation Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast and "Iron Chef America" winner, are now taking it a step further.
To follow the rhythm of the seasons, we have to use preservation techniques said Lee, chef/owner of 610 Magnolia and Milkwood, two hot restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, who titled his new cookbook "Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen" (Artisan 2013). An unlikely but delicious combination of Korean and American South, the recipes such as pickled jasmine peaches with star anise, pickled garlic in molasses soy sauce and fried green tomato-cilantro relish are definitely one step or more beyond grandma’s cellar.
“The earlier recipes in each chapter are the easier ones so start there,” Lee suggests to those new to canning who are using his book. He recommends his bourbon pickled jalapenos as a starter but adds, “do try some of the more ambitious ones. They are well worth the effort.”
Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of "Put 'em Up! Fruit" (Storey 2013) offers a recipe for blueberry ketchup, and said, “Why not, tomatoes are a fruit too.
Indeed, in the 1887 edition of "The White House Cook Book" by Mrs. F.L. Gillette and Hugo Ziemann, there are a plethora of recipes for all kinds of ketchup (though they spelled it catsup) – oyster, gooseberry, currant, mushroom and walnut among others.
Though we’re returning to an old craft, there are new rules.
“A lot of people remember what their mothers and grandmothers did,” said Powell, “and that’s not always acceptable anymore in terms of food safety.”
“I encourage people to use research based Websites for recipes,” said Powell. Among websites offering information are the National Center for Home Food Preservation's site.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t use old recipes. If we like an old one, say grandma’s pickles, Powell recommends matching it with a proven recipe from a good source to make sure the proper techniques are used.
“Also, if you like a recipe and can’t match it, go ahead, make it and freeze it,” Powell said..
Helen Gutyen, a long time member of the Lake County Notables, the Lake County Extension’s chorus, has taken both Powell’s five-week food preservation course and also several half day classes.
“I liked it because you not only learn about canning but also food safety,” says Gutyen who lives in Schererville. “Among the recipes we made were chutney and the most delicious fruit topping with raspberries, blueberries and strawberries that tastes great over ice cream. “I also made friends with the people in the classes. We would talk and cook. There’s nothing like women working together in a kitchen.”
Pickled Jasmine Peaches with Star Anise
Makes 2 quarts
2 pounds slightly under ripe peaches
1 cup champagne vinegar
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 star anise
2 Serrano chili peppers, sliced in half
3 jasmine tea bags
DIRECTIONS: Peel the peaches with a vegetable peeler. Slice into wedges, discarding the pits. Pack into a large glass jar or other heatproof container.Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and star anise in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour the hot liquid over the peaches and add the peppers and the tea bags. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. Remove and discard the tea bags after 1 day. The peaches will be ready after 2 days, and they will keep for up to 3 weeks.
From "Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen."
Blackberries in Framboise
6 cups blackberries, divided
3 tablespoons and 2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick (about 4 inches), broken into pieces
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Framboise or other raspberry liqueur
4 (8-ounce) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands
DIRECTIONS: PLACE 2 cups of blackberries in a stainless steel saucepan. Using a potato masher, crush slightly. Add 3 tablespoons water. Cover and boil gently over medium-low heat until fruit is soft, about 2 minutes. Strain though a dampened jelly bag or a strainer lined with several layers of dampened cheesecloth set over a glass measure to collect 1/2 cup blackberry juice.
PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
COMBINE sugar, cinnamon stick pieces, lemon zest, nutmeg and 2 cups water in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes. Strain and return syrup to saucepan. Add blackberry juice, remaining blackberries and Framboise. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly but gently so as not to crush blackberries.
PACK hot blackberries into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, using a slotted spoon. Ladle hot syrup into jar to cover blackberries leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and re-measure headspace. If needed, add more syrup to meet recommended headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
Recipe courtesy Corinne Powell.