Growing and canning their own fruits and vegetables has been a tradition in the Brown Family for over four decades. Determined to provide healthy, homegrown food for her five children, and now 10 grandchildren, Kathy Brown’s become quite the expert on growing and preserving her delicious produce on the acreage she shares with her husband, Phil, in Happy Valley.
In recent years, according to Kathy, “it’s been as much about the children coming along with me and teaching them, letting them help, as it’s been about the food.” She started with tomatoes in a makeshift greenhouse and has expanded her garden to almost half an acre, including many fruit trees. Family and friends love to “grocery shop” in Mrs. Brown’s garden. As the family garden grew to produce more food than they could eat each week, canning was a natural progression. Waste isn’t a part of Kathy’s vocabulary.
Anyone who’s taken on a huge canning project and found themselves sweating over a hot water bath at midnight, with mounds of over-ripe fruit piled around them, knows that half the battle is not letting yourself get overwhelmed.
Kathy has a few tips on how to keep your sanity with a simple canning process:
> Have all of your equipment sanitized and ready to go before you start. Basic equipment is inexpensive and can often be found at yard sales. Glass jars can be used for generations, so you’ll just have to stock up on rings and lids.
> Clean and inspect your jars for chips and cracks as soon as you empty them. Store them upside-down so they stay clean and ready for refilling. Also, remind your family and friends to clean and return your jars!
> Only pick as much produce as you have time to process that day. It’s easier to deal with small amounts as the food comes ready. Stick with six to eight jars at a time, or as many as will fit in one canner load.
Quick and easy projects include fruit jams and pickles. The high sugar, or acid content, in these recipes, and the heat of the mixtures being high enough to seal the jars, eliminates the need for a hot water bath to seal them.
Salsas, tomato sauces, and any canning of meat or vegetables in a water or oil solution will require 20-30 minutes in a water bath canner, or even 100 minutes (or more) in a pressure canner. Make them safe to store over winter—in particular meat and low acid vegetables—and always be sure to follow the directions for canning, or pressure canning, very carefully. Improperly canned foods can contain dangerous bacteria.
A typical pickling day for Kathy starts with a walk through her garden to collect pickling cucumbers that have grown big enough to can, leaving smaller ones for another day. The cucumbers are then washed and stuffed in hot, sterile jars from the oven with some dill and garlic. She keeps her vinegar/salt/pickling spice mixture in a jar in the fridge, so the process to pickle a few jars every few days is quick and easy. Once she’s heated the vinegar solution, it can be poured over the pickles. Jars are sealed with lids and rings that have been sterilized in boiling water. The whole process, from picking the cucumbers to canning 6-7 jars (more or less) takes about an hour. Pickles, with their high acid solution, don’t require a hot water bath; they stay crunchy and the overall processing time is shorter. However, pickle recipes with a lower salt content may require a boiling water bath. To help keep this type crunchy, insert a fresh grape leaf in each jar.
You can try your hand at some basic recipes found in cookbooks and online, or ask a friend for their favourite recipe.