As food gardens have been sprouting all over the country—from the White House to church lawns to backyards and condo decks, there’s been a simultaneous resurgence of interest in canning and other types of food preservation. Farmers markets, garden stores and even the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is offering classes. A quick Google search leads to a growing number of books and blogs about various food preservation methods: canning, pickling, freezing, fermenting, drying and curing.
Food preservation is making a comeback as part of the food and drink DIY movement. As canning jars were flying off store shelves in midsummer, I spoke with two women who teach canning and food preserving classes about their background, the why and how of food preserving and how to get started. A few of their recipes and a resource list follow the Q & A with them.
Cara Haskey, 37, Owner of ModernPreserves
Cara Haskey grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, where she often picked wild berries, harvested vegetables on a family friend’s farm, and visited the docks to purchase fresh tuna from local fishermen—all of these activities leading to home canning with her mom. “My mom was in the resurgence of home canning and food preservation in the ‘70s and my sister and I served as her assistants.
Haskey, who lives in Portland's Laurelhurst neighborhood, recently started her own business, ModernPreserves, teaching classes for Portland Farmers Market, Portland Nursery, Zenger Farm and Slow Food, as well as offering home parties for adults and children. Last year, anticipating starting a family, she processed more than 350 pounds of food, mostly canned tomato sauces, salsas, chutneys, and a roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. She also froze many pounds of local berries.
Q. What’s your work background and how did it lead you to your business?
A. Until recently I was working in a corporate job, but before I met my husband and moved to Portland I had a graphic design and software development business in Seattle, so I’m familiar with starting and running a small business. Early last year I was exploring other work directions and had been volunteering at Portland Farmers Market. I was coming home with 25 pounds of produce a week and canning a lot of food. I began teaching some classes and doing demos, which led me to the next step—taking an eight-week course through Washington State University’s Clark County Extension Service to become certified as a Master Food Preserver and Food Safety Advisor.
Q. Who are the people coming to your classes?
A. A good portion of the people I’ve taught have grandmothers who canned and then it skipped a generation. About 99 percent are women and most are in their thirties. Quite a few are gardeners or members of a CSA farm who are looking for ways to use the abundance of produce they have.
Q. What’s the best way to get started with canning and preserving?
A. My advice is to focus on small batches. Don’t buy 100 pounds of tomatoes for your first project. Experiment and see what you like. As far as learning goes, decide what learning style works best for you. For me, it was taking a hands-on class. If you want a book, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving is small, but it’s one of the best and is only $8. If you want more information, I’d recommend So Easy To Preserve from The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
Q. What motivates people to get into canning and other types of food preservation—saving money or the DIY experience?
A. I think motivating factors vary, but saving money is not a given unless you are growing your own produce. My husband is a research economist and he’s figured out that even with buying 250 pounds of organic tomatoes at a bargain price, as I did last summer, I am not saving money when I make my tomato sauces and salsa. We figure it costs me about 50 cents to 70 cents more per jar of canned spaghetti sauce or salsa, but I get the quality and the flavors that my family prefers.
Another motivating factor today is that people have more concerns about food safety, what with product recalls and the growing concern about BPA linings in canned foods. (Bisphenol A is a synthetic estrogen used to make some plastics hard and as a resin in can linings so they don't rust. It’s better known for its use in plastic water bottles. Mirador Community Store in Southeast Portland carries reusable Tattler lids, which are BPA-free.)You don’t entirely eliminate the concern with home canning, because most canning lids have BPA, but the food doesn’t touch the lid.
Q. Speaking of safety, isn’t the fear of botulism a concern that discourages some people from canning?
A. There are a number of general canning safety practices that I teach, from starting with high-quality ingredients, to following safe, tested home canning practices, appropriate processing times and, when necessary, adding acids such as lemon juice or vinegar to some foods. Botulism is a risk only for low-acid foods, such as vegetables and meats. Tomatoes are considered a borderline food—some varieties have adequate pH for home canning without the addition of lemon juice or citric acid, but other varieties require additional acid whether you process them in a boiling-water canner or a pressure canner. Because there is no easy and effective way to test the pH of your tomatoes, it’s recommended that you add a tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint of tomatoes.
Q. So… maybe beginning to can with acid foods like fruit is an easier way to start?
A. Definitely. The risks are much lower and it’s less costly to get started, as you don’t have to invest $70 to $100 in a pressure canner. A pressure canner is
different than a pressure cooker—a pressure cooker cannot be used for pressure canning. Acidic foods such as fruits, salsas, pickles, jams, jellies and fruit butter are canned in a water bath canner, which is simple a large covered pot that can hold jars with at least one to two inches of water above the top of the jars.
Q. Any other thoughts on getting started?
A. Jam is a great way to jump into canning. We have such beautiful fruit here and there is nothing better than opening a jar of homemade jam to dollop on your scone on a dreary winter morning. I recommend starting with a simple recipe for small batches. I like to use less sugar than some recipes call for because I like the bright, natural flavor of the fruit itself. Sometimes I use honey—half as much as sugar. When canning fruit, you don’t actually need sugar, but it helps the fruit stay firmer and in jams it helps for jelling property, which prevents mold. I prefer to avoid commercial pectin to thicken my jam. It’s easy when you make small batches. I use a wide pan so the water evaporates fairly quickly and the fruit sets naturally without using pectin. This method yields a softer set, but I like the simplicity.
Q. What other kinds of food preserving do you do?
A. I freeze quite a bit, choosing carefully what to freeze since space is limited. Freezers attached to refrigerators generally cycle through a range of temperatures so the food stored will not maintain quality as long as with a standalone freezer. Right now my freezer contents include four kinds of berries, my Roasted Tomato Sauce, Meatballs made from Pine Mountain Ranch's ground Yak and Elk meat, and foods I like to stock up on, such as butter and pastured chicken.
Laura Ohm, 38, Grand Central Bakery Commissary Manager and Occasional Cooking Teacher
Laura Ohm grew up in a small town in central Wisconsin where every family had a vegetable garden and her mother put up tomatoes and made pickles every year. She says she didn’t pay much attention to food until she left home. With a fresh liberal arts degree in hand, she became a bread baker, and has been baking or cooking for a living ever since. Ohm has taught bread and pastry classes for the Bread Bakers Guild of America, Sur La Table, Portland Farmers Market and Grand Central Bakery. She lives in Northeast Portland.
Q. What led to your interest in canning and preserving?
A. The catalyst was joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm around 11 years ago, after moving to Portland. I’m a CSA believer. When you get a new box of produce every week, it’s heartbreaking if you put half of it in your compost, so I said to myself that food preserving is an element of cooking I need to learn. I didn’t take classes, but I like to do research, so I did a lot of reading. Cost-wise I probably spend more making jam and pickles than I would spend to buy them, but I like giving homemade gifts and I like having things on hand that I’ve made, like pickles for appetizers and fruit butter for my Bundt cake.
Q. Do you have a particular approach to canning and preserving?
A. My style is to insert it into my lifestyle rather than spend a weekend canning when I’d rather be outside riding my bicycle. So I like to make jam or blanch green beans for the freezer when I’m already in the kitchen making dinner. Pears, tomatoes and tomato sauce are the exceptions—these are my big canning projects that I’ll devote a few hours to at a time. I also like to stock up on sugar, vinegar, all the things I’ll be needing, in advance.
Q. What do you typically can and preserve?
A. I mostly do water bath, not pressure canning. I can whole Romas, pears in vanilla syrup (which I give for Christmas gifts), cherries in syrup, apple butter, apricot jam, sweet and dill pickles. I also like to blanche and freeze greens for a quick pasta meal.
Q. Where do you teach canning and preserving classes and what do they cover?
A. This is my second year of teaching classes for the Urban Growth Bounty series sponsored by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The classes cover jamming and pickling, freezing, drying and fermenting. They are part demo, part hands-on, and everyone gets to take home a jar of something made in the class.
Q. Are the students mostly women under 40?
A. The city classes draw men and women from 30 to 60 and some are returning to canning after doing it 30 years ago. They tend to go to farmers markets or belong to CSA farms. Some remember their mothers sealing jam jars with wax.
A. Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition, by Steve Dowdney—a chic little book that’s good for canning inspiration. I love his Green Tomato Pickles.
Cara’s favorite Rhubarb-Marionberry Chutney
Cara’s favorite Roasted Red Pepper Spread
Laura’s Tomato Jam
Canning & Preserving Resources
- National Center for Home Food Preservation
- OSU Extension Service
- Canning Across America (CAA) is a nationwide, ad hoc collective of cooks, gardeners and food lovers committed to the revival of the lost art of “putting by” food. Its goal is to promote safe food preservation and the joys of community building through food. Excellent resource section includes books and blogs, recipes, articles and videos.
Equipment & Supplies
Mirador Community Store in Southeast Portland: large selection of equipment and supplies for canning, food drying, etc.
- Portland Farmers Market: Preserving the Market
- Lost Arts Kitchen
City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
- Hollywood Farmers Market: In the Kitchen