What do you do with 360 kilograms of tomatoes?
You can preserve them … with a little help from your friends. Amy Butler, co-founder of the Jamboree Canning Collective in Vancouver, and the collective's 30 members will be canning gargantuan amounts of fruits and vegetables this summer. During its three-year existence Ms. Butler has seen interest grow to the point that the wait list has stretched to 45 names this spring.
Canning workshops and collectives are popping up across the country. Sales of Bernardin glass jars are up 31 per cent over the past three years according to spokesman Emerie Brine.
"I think the rise in canning's popularity has sprung from a desire to connect, not only with where our food comes from but with the people around us," Ms. Butler says.
But many forgo this age-old art of preserving because of fear. The bogeyman? Botulism. The harmless spores are common in soil but can become harmful in improperly canned food. While safety is a legitimate issue, this "concern is vastly overstated," says James Partanen, a co-ordinator at the Westend Food Coop in Toronto. Indeed, there were only three cases of food-borne botulism in Canada last year, according to Health Canada.
Just as the science and techniques have come a long way since your grandma did open-kettle canning, so have the recipes. A new generation of preservers are employing a mixologist's sense of experimentation with pickles, sauces, jams and chutneys to come up with creations like Edmonton based Mojo Jojo Pickle's spicy Curried Zucchini Pickle or Ari$tocrat's Marmalade, by Montreal's Preservation Society, which pairs Seville oranges with milk chocolate and whisky.
For guidance and inspiration, a workshop is the best place to learn proper technique. If you make a go of it on your own, consult respected resources like well known cookbooks or the websites of Bernardin and the National Center of Home Food Preservation for procedures and recipes.
Here's a few tips for soothing those nerves.
There's no point in preserving bland flavours so pick the freshest produce and process it as soon as possible. Fruit is the general domain for beginning canners as most recipes contain enough acid that heat processing (submerging filled jars in boiling water) will kill any bacteria. Vegetables and meats are trickier as they're low in acid and require a pressure canner – a more complicated process.
Playing around with large pots of boiling water requires some tools and a careful touch. A jar lifter makes life infinitely easier and a magnetic lid lifter works like a charm in fishing out sterilized discs. No need to clutter your cupboards with more pots if you have a stockpot large enough to cover the jars with one inch of water and a non-reactive pot like stainless steel or enamel to cook jam.
While Bernardin jars have been showing up as stemware on the tables of casual restaurants, you can find them at most hardware stores. While many canners reuse the seal discs Bernardin says you should use a new one each time.
Getting the jars in and out of the pot requires, as Julia Child put it, "the courage of your convictions." But once you accomplish it then comes the first satisfying reward of canning and a sign that you've done things right: The pop. It might happen right away or later once the jars are cooling on the counter. If you're unsure it's sealed, press in the centre of the lid. It should be stiff.
Store the jars in a cool, dry place and eat within a year for the best flavour. Check for signs of spoilage and if in doubt, throw it out.
Still not persuaded? Well, you can still get in on the fun by freezing jams and jellies, make sure to use wide-mouth jars and leaving enough space for the food to expand. Or you can try lacto-fermentation, which doesn't involve any dance with scalding water and preserves simply with salt, water and spices.
Either way, there's no reason not to preserve the taste of summer.