Canning's become popular among frugal people and foodies alike. Last fall, a mix of about a dozen canning veterans and newbies came out to Coakley Ace hardware in Canton for a workshop put on by Cornell Cooperative Extension. No cooking went on, but a lot of recipes--and a lot of enthusiasm--were exchanged. Nora Flaherty went down to the workshop.
The mostly-female group filters in, singly and in twos and threes, and people immediately start bonding over their canning recipes. Lorenza Girard from Louisville learned to can decades ago, from her mother-in-law—she’s here because she’d like to learn about canning meat.
Girard is here with a friend from the neighborhood—Linda Trito: "I’ve been doing plums and things since ’94…and I haven’t done tomatoes and things like that yet, but I’m enjoying pickles."
Carol Spadaccini works at Coakley’s –she organized this workshop. She says she’s gotten into canning because she’s got way more in her garden than she can handle: "I grew romas, lots of different tomatoes, yellow, purple, cherry, beefsteak. I had one the other day the size of a small pumpkin! He was so cool I didn’t want to break him up!"
Now, canning can be a scary thing—everyone’s heard a story about someone’s ceiling being covered in tomato sauce after an incident with a pressure cooker. So it’s good to have expert instruction.
Jackie Gates, nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, is a longtime canner, and an enthusiastic canning evangelist: "I would say it’s a ton of fun, I just did a first time class with women in their 20s, and they told me then never knew it could be so much fun"
The tone at the workshop is definitely fun—but people also have some pretty serious reasons for wanting to learn or refine these old skills. Barbara Beldock is from Lisbon—she works at Ogdensburg Correctional. She says she came here tonight because “I think we’re going to have to start having gardens and keeping our own food because the price of everything is going up."
Cooperative extension intern and novice canner Cassandra Hamilton, talks about the basics: Why lower-acid foods need to be canned with steam pressure; the tools you need; how to know if your jars have actually sealed, so you won’t get a nasty surprise in a few months; and why it’s not a good idea to make changes in canning recipes.
And Jackie Gates answers one frequently asked question: "I get calls…I’m in Aunt Carol’s basement and there’s sauce from 1976. Is it OK, do I have to throw it away? Don’t make me the bad guy!” She says this happens to hear at least once every canning season.
During the question and answer period, the topic returns to costs. Canning equipment’s not outrageously expensive, but Gates says before you make that outlay it’s a good idea to take a return trip to Aunt Carol’s basement, or to a garage sale, where they might find used equipment for much less money.
And she says once you get going with canning, it can save you a lot of money: "Especially when the cost of foods keep going up, and in the wintertime when all your expenses are high, you want to be able to pop open a jar of venison stew, go into the freezer and grab some frozen corn and make yourself a full meal without having to go shopping."
But whether you’re canning to save money, to hang out with friends, or just because the sheer number of tomatoes from the garden is so overwhelming— organizer Carol Spadaccini says there’s something more, a feeling of accomplishment. And that's something she says she, for one, could stand to feel more of.