Cultivating Interest in the Art of Canning

(The folllwing article appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Momentum magazine:

By Debra Spurrier

Marylanders are getting back to the basics, turning an old tradition into a new way of eating healthy and remaining self-sufficient while utilizing local food resources. Launched in 2014, the University of Maryland Extension’s “Grow It, Eat It, Preserve It” workshops equip consumers with the tools needed to extend the enjoyment of locally grown produce across all seasons in a safe and economical way.

Canning, whether through a warm bath method or pressure cooking, is a traditional method of food preservation that many affectionately recall as a skill used by their grandparents. However, a survey conducted by The Food Network among people who were interested in home canning revealed that more than 50 percent of responders were under the age of 45, with 26 percent under the age of 35.

Baltimore County Extension Educator Dr. Shauna Henley believes this renewed interest in learning to preserve food across all age groups and demographics has risen from a honing in on the farm to fork perspective. “One of the biggest reasons I have seen driving the food preservation movement is wanting to know exactly where your food is coming from coupled with a desire to get back to nature,” said Henley. “There is an element of independence when you can use the land to grow your own food, know how to handle it once it has been harvested and then prepare a healthy meal with the bounty.”

As a trainer of the “Grow It, Eat It, Preserve It” series, Henley also believes the access to locally grown fruits and vegetables across all seasons through farmers’ markets, participation in CSAs and in backyard gardens is another motivating factor for learning to preserve food.

“With the increase in local, fresh produce, people just don’t know what to do with the extra,” said Henley. “Through safe canning methods, the food can be enjoyed during the winter months or shared with others.”

UME is targeting this increasing number of consumers wanting to learn up-to-date, evidence-based techniques for preserving foods at home with an expansion of the Extension workshop series for Maryland communities in 2015. Coupled with the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s pinpointing home food processing and preservation as a priority among food safety issues, UME’s food preservation curriculum focuses on how to create a safe and delicious product.

“We teach our participants to wash fresh produce before processing it, and how to choose the correct method of canning for the food you are preserving,” said Henley.

Henley explains that while it may be tempting to use a recipe passed down for generations, or one found in a grandmother’s collection, science, technology and research over time has created recipes and methods that are now safer.

Classes focus on high-acid canning, jams and jellies, pickles and pickled products, low-acid canning and tomatoes. “There are two methods for canning at home and they are not interchangeable for safety purposes,” stated Henley. “High-acid foods are canned in a water bath method, while low-acid foods must be canned in a high-pressure canner.”

Both methods weigh in rather light on pocket for start-up costs. According to Henley, water bath canning equipment can be gathered for approximately $50, while the pressure canner starts at about $80. UME’s “Grow It, Eat It, Preserve It” workshops vary in price across the state, but all allow participants to try out canning methods and equipment before buying. They also supply all fruits or vegetables, lids, jars and an instruction manual, “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” for a quality finished product.

New for 2015 is a focus on food preservation for youth, bringing together the efforts of UME educators from 4-H and Home Economics. “It is the hope to see an increase in both number of fair entries in the canning division and quality of preserved products,” said Henley.

In addition to this hands-on workshop series, UME educators are available by phone and email to assist consumers with a variety of home economic topics.

Maintained by the IET Department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. © 2016.