Masters at preserving
Fresh from the Master Food Preservation course, Bernadette Hansen wanted to preserve everything in sight.
“I was so excited!” she said.
She’s still excited about canning and other preservation techniques, but she’s calmed down a bit and narrowed her focus to just the things her family will use and enjoy. Tomatoes. Spaghetti sauce. Salsa. Peaches and pears. Pickled asparagus. Dilly beans. A few jars of jam. Elk meat, if her husband gets a tag this season. Tuna.
“You can get local produce when it’s inexpensive and at its prime, and can it for later,” the McMinnville woman said.
“You know what’s in your food, it costs less and it’s good.”
Tomatoes are a good example. Canning fully ripe, local tomatoes in summer is much more healthful and inexpensive than buying artificially ripened tomatoes in winter, she said.
Like other members of the 2013 Master Food Preservation class, Hansen also is eager to share her knowledge. She helped Laura Kushner and Cheryl White (see below) teach a recent class on canning fruits, and plans to answer questions at local farmers’ markets.
For instance, she will advise canners to use recipes tested for safety, rather than recipes from untested sources such as internet cooking sites and family cookbooks. Plenty of tested recipes are available free on the OSU Extension and USDA websites. “They’re safe and delicious and you won’t get bored,” she said.
She’s required to give back 40 volunteer hours in return for the class. “I would have done that anyway,” she said.
Hansen didn’t grow up with canning. Her father was in the Air Force and the family moved frequently. “It was easier to go to the PX” than to preserve food, she said.
She had always wanted to can, though, but, like many people, she was afraid of doing it incorrectly. Then she saw an announcement about canning classes in the News-Register in 2010. One tomato session and she was hooked.
She said she fell in love with the process and the results. “It’s not work. I love getting the fruit, washing it, putting it into jars...” she said.
She especially enjoyed seeing half a dozen beautiful jars sparkling like gems when a batch is finished. And opening a jar of home-canned food was a thrill.
Still, she limited her canning to waterbath only — jams, tomatoes, pickles. She was reluctant to try pressure canning vegetables and meats.
The Master Food Preserver class this spring was her chance to expand her skills. “I wanted to learn everything I can and make it part of my lifestyle,” she said.
After learning from experts, she now is confident of her abilities with all types of preserving. And if she has a question, she can always count on help from the OSU Extension experts.
Independence and sustainability
For Cheryl White, canning and other methods of food preservation are key parts of her efforts at sustainability.
“If you can grow a garden and can, you’ll have food for the winter,” said White, who also gives away much of her bounty.
Besides, she said, “It’s fun to go to the pantry and pick out dinner.”
White started canning as a child visiting her grandmother’s farm. She and her family picked peaches in the orchard, canned them in the kitchen and stored the sealed jars in the root cellar.
As a child, her hand was small enough to fit into the canning jars, so she was in charge of placing the peaches or cucumbers into each jar. “I was 5 and I thought they couldn’t do it without me,” she said.
She still enjoys the perfection of canned produce. “It feels like artwork,” she said.
White recently relocated to Yamhill County from Lake Oswego. A graduate of OSU’s Master Gardener course, as well as the food preservation program, she brought with her plenty of seeds so she could continue gardening on a large scale. On her property north of McMinnville, she grows numerous varieties of vegetables, including many heirlooms and rare strains that her grandmother once grew in Kansas.
She gives much of her bounty away and cans, dries or otherwise preserves the rest. “I hate to see food go to waste,” she said. “There’s no reason people have to go hungry.”
White likes the control canning gives her. By choosing the right recipes, she can decide how much salt or sugar goes in.
In addition to canning, she dries many foods. “There’s a little squirrel in me,” she said.
She dries herbs for tea and zucchini for chips. And she dries tomatoes and other vegetables until they’re crisp, then pulverizes them in the food processor.
A quart jar of the tomato powder equals about 50 quarts of canned tomatoes, she said. Packed with vitamins, it can be easily added to soups or smoothies, or stirred with water to make tomato juice.
White also is a big fan of canning meats in a pressure canner. She called home-canned chicken “the most incredible convenience food,” because it can be seasoned during the cooking process.
“It’s easier to do than peaches,” she said, and when she needs a quick meal, all she has to do is open a jar of chicken and heat it up in a casserole or soup.
Another convenience food she cans is pie filling. She combines fresh fruit with sugar, water and a special modified cornstarch available from the Yamhill County Extension office.
The resulting filling is easy to use and delicious, she said. “You can open a jar and have a pie in the oven when guests come,” said White, who also makes and freezes ready-to-use pie crust.
White said she cans a year’s supply of canned and dried foods, so she’ll have them on hand for both daily use and in an emergency. The importance of having a supply hit home for her in 1980. Fallout from Mount St. Helens made it impossible for her to harvest anything from her garden that summer, so she was especially happy to have canned food from 1979.
“And I didn’t need a freezer for that,” she said. “With canning, you don’t have to worry about the power going out.”
For home and work
Laura Kushner, community outreach coordinator for the Yamhill County Food Bank, became a master food preserver this year for both personal and job-related reasons.
“My family are lifelong canners, and I’m big on education and making sure people have the skills they need,” she said.
The 2001 McMinnville High School graduate grew up with canning. As a child, she snapped beans for her mother and grandmother as they canned garden produce. She helped listen to the pressure canner, although she didn’t know why — she now realizes the sound of the weight moving is related to the amount of steam inside.
“That’s a really strong sensory memory for me. Now I know the science behind it,” she said.
As an adult, she has canned fruits and jams on her own. She also froze homemade spaghetti sauce; this year, with more experience as a canner, she plans to can it instead.
Kushner mostly limited herself to boiling water canning. She was a bit intimidated by the pressure canner before taking Master Food Preserver class.
Now she feels confident about all types of canning, even pressure canning with a canner that uses a weight or a gauge. “If you follow the steps, it won’t explode, and your food will be processed right,” she said.
She wants to pass that confidence on to others by teaching canning classes.
And that goes hand in hand with her work at YCAP. “With the food bank, one of the newer issues, statewide, is we’re getting less prepared food and more whole foods,” Kushner said. “But fewer people know how to prepare or save that sort of food.”
YCAP’s mission is to equip people to help themselves, she said.
“We might have 2,000 pounds of fresh green beans and a thousand pounds of zucchini in our warehouse, all at the same time,” she said. “How do you inspire people to cook from scratch?”
Her first class focused on turning rice and dried lentils into a high-protein soup and using leftover bread and shelf-stable milk to make bread pudding. She discovered many of the students had no idea how to cook rice. And many don’t even know which seasonings they like — they’re used to eating foods that are preseasoned.
Now, as a Master Food Preserver, she is able to help food bank clients learn what to do with a box of fresh produce, both immediately and for the long term. She might teach them a few methods to prepare zucchini, plus a way to preserve it by turning extra into bread and butter pickles, for instance.
Using and preserving fresh food not only is economical, it also can be more rewarding. “The more involved in the preparation of food people are, the healthier they eat and the more excited they are about eating healthy,” she said.
Contact Starla Pointer at 503-687-1263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the master food preservers
Yamhill County Master Food Preservers are trained volunteers who teach classes and answer questions about canning, freezing, drying and other ways of preserving foods.
Half a dozen Yamhill County residents -- Laura Kushner, Bernadette Hansen, Ramona Hernandez, Cheryl White, Jim Vermeer and Jeri St. Onge -- recently completed the nine-week course. They spent a full day each week learning about the science of preservation and practicing safe techniques.
In addition to canning, the food preserver course covered freezing, drying and other types of processing, such as fermenting and smoking. Students learned to turn milk into queso fresco and meat into sausage, both methods of using and preserving quantities. They discussed creating an emergency pantry, what to stock it with and how much it should contain.
The new Master Food Preservers will join other graduates of the program in answering questions at the McMinnville farmers’ market on Thursday afternoons on Cowls Street; and at the Newberg Farmers Market on Tuesdays near the Newberg library.
Others will be teaching canning classes and other preservation techniques in McMinnville and in the West Valley. A drying class also may be offered.
For more information, call the Yamhill County OSU Extension Office, at 503-434-7517.
How to can peaches
Equipment and supplies:
Boiling water canner (very large lidded pot with a rack at the bottom) partly filled with hot water
Canning jars, new lids and rings
Pan of boiling water for skinning peaches
Bowl of ice water
Bowl of water treated with ascorbic acid powder to hold peaches before processing
Hot sugar syrup, see below, water or juice
Ladle, spoons, knives, hot pads
Wash peaches. Remove skin by placing peaches in boiling water for approximately 1 minute, then placing them directly in ice water. This will loosen the skin to ease in the removal. Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Slice, if desired.
To prevent darkening during preparation, put the cut fruit into water containing 1 teaspoon ascorbic acid powder per gallon of water, or crush and dissolve six 500-milligram vitamin C tablets per gallon of water. Drain.
Peaches may be canned in sugar syrup, juice, or water. Suitable juices are apple, orange and pineapple. Peaches canned with syrup will hold their shape better. For a 9-pint load, use the following proportions: Very light, 6 1/2 cups water, 3/4 cup sugar; light, 5 3/4 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar; medium, 5 1/4 cups water, 2 1/4 cups sugar; heavy, 5 cups water, 3 1/4 cups sugar. Place water and sugar in saucepan and heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Keep hot as you fill jars.
Fill each jar with raw fruit, cut side down. Add hot water, juice or syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
Wipe off jar rim, add lid and screw ring on finger tight. Place in canner, making sure water level is at least 1 inch above top of lids. Bring to a boil and process pints 25 minutes, quarts 30 minutes.
After processing time is complete, take canner off heat. Remove lid and wait 5 minutes before removing jars. Let jars sit undisturbed overnight.