Friday, September 5, 2014

A Party In A Jar: Canning For Dummies

This summer I have returned to my roots. I started canning again. Oh canning, how I have missed thee. The day after we arrived in Oregon in July, I ran out to a local farm outside of Canby and bought two flats of berries. One flat of Marionberries and one flat of boysenberries. These two types of berries are large, sweet, delicious and addictive. As any self-respecting Oregonian will tell you. I promptly made 30 pints of jam and they are delicious, if I don't say so myself. Superior, far superior I tell you, to what you can buy in the store.

Back in the day when we lived in Oregon we had easy access to berries. Raspberries, strawberries, boysenberries, black raspberries, Marionberries ... some of that was due in large part to our good friends Mark and Bob Webber, whose family had a berry farm on the outskirts of Canby. They would actually give us flats berries. You just can't find friends like those anywhere.

Anyway, things changed when we moved to Virginia and the berries, peaches, pears, cherries, apples for applesauce, cucumbers for pickling and other produce are harder to come by, depending on where you live. I have very fond memories of canning quarts of peaches in Oregon and opening a jar in winter and savoring every bite. If you've never had home-canned peaches, why I dare say you haven't lived yet.

I had fully planned to can green beans from our garden this year but we were in Oregon for the four weeks that our pole beans were producing ... so that didn't work out so well. Home-canned green beans are simply exquisite, my friend. Trust me. Anyway, we had friends give us oodles of tomatoes recently so last night I canned up some pints. I plan to buy another box today from the local farmer's stand and can up some more. These will go in chili, soups, sauces and a multitude of other dishes. In addition to having a superior taste to what you fetch from a store in a can, they are healthier without all the preservatives, additives and other dangerous chemicals and whatnot that are added. My jars of canned tomatoes consist of tomatoes, water and a little lemon juice. Basically it's nutritious and delicious in a jar.

Here's the deal with canning though. Maybe there's a stigma to it. You think of canning and something like this old photo from the Oregon State University Extension Office comes to mind:

Nothing could be further from the truth. Real men are canning produce. In their big boy jeans and t-shirts. The big hangup for men in canning their peaches, tomatoes and jams might be one thing: Following directions. Most men are born without the `following directions' gene. We don't need no stinkin' directions. We don't even need maps. (Which, truth be told, is how most of the known world was discovered. Men were heading in a certain direction in or on their boat, ship, camel, horse, wagon, Jeep, or whatever, refused to consult their map, or follow the stars, or read the compass, or check Google maps -- or use whichever navigation tool that was supposed to guide them -- and they ended up completely lost. Rather than admitting they were lost, however, they "rebranded" their journey, to use a marketing term. Suddenly they "discovered" a new land while on an "exploration" and labeled themselves as "explorers." Sure is a better label than going down in history as the "dude who got totally lost," eh?)

Men, when it comes to canning you have to follow directions. Look at it this way, great men follow directions. Case in point: Noah. Imagine if Noah hadn't followed God's directions to build the ark. We probably wouldn't be here because Noah would have "known how to do this himself" and he would've cobbled together some sort of raft made out of old wood pallets with a bed sheet for a sail and called it good. Now the sheep probably would've walked right onto the "ark" because, well, sheep are dumb. But I imagine the elephant would've looked at the monkey and said, "Um, no." The genius of Noah was his faithfulness, commitment, perseverance and, wait for it, ability to follow directions.

Trust me, if you follow directions when it comes to canning, you will not be disappointed. It's easier than you think and I never have thought after enjoying the fruits of my work, "Instead of canning that unbelievably tasty jar of jam I should have wasted my time surfing the Internet." Directions are a click away on this thing called the "Internet" and here in Gloucester at the moment you can get a box of tomatoes for canning at amazingly affordable prices. You can use them for straight up canned tomatoes, or salsa, or spaghetti sauce ... options aplenty! Go forth and do some canning men!

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