Last month I participated in Pie Party and had so much fun I decided to participate in this month’s party, too! Gluten-Free Girl announced Pickling Party, which was just the push I needed to learn to pickle..and can.
Until last fall, I had never attempted canning or pickling. Last September our CSA farm held a green tomato turnover day. All of the shareholders at the farm were invited to come pull up all of the tomato plants and take home any remaining green fruit. I took home about 40 pounds of green tomatoes and froze as many as I had room for, but still had many left over. I decided it was time to learn to can. I made green tomato citrus marmalade and it was delicious, perfect on a grilled cheese sandwich. But I knew after that one experience with canning that I had so much more to learn. I needed a hands-on class.
This Summer my friend Renee asked me if I knew of any canning classes. Like me, she is interested in food preservation, especially of the fruits and vegetables grown at home. I did some looking for a class and came up with only a few options, all of them very pricey and they were being held after the peak of growing season, beyond the time when we would need to be canning the bounty from our gardens.
Then came a text message from Renee. She had found a five-session canning and food preservation class in our tiny little ‘burb, held in a church basement for only $60. What?!? How could that be? One two-hour past-season class at the culinary center was $55, is this for real? What Renee found was the best investment I could have made in learning more about food preservation. I’ve spent the last five Tuesdays in a church basement with a small cooktop range and a diverse group of women learning about canning from Glenda Kinder, the Nutrition and Health Education Specialist for my county’s office of the University of Missouri Extension.
In the five sessions of classes, we learned about pressure canning (I no longer fear the pressure canner!), canning salsa and fruit, making jams and jellies, freezing and dehydrating and, of course, pickling. Every session was packed full of tips that will stick with me for many years. For a food nerd like me, this class was so much fun. All of the talk of pH levels, enzyme activity and chemical reactions had my head swimming every Tuesday night. After last night’s class, I came home and canned peach salsa into the wee hours of the morning. Glenda has an entertaining way to share so much information in a short time–and it sticks! The way the information was presented makes sense to me and I’m putting it to use already.
The first week we canned green beans using that super scary pressure canner. I’ve heard horror stories about pressure canning and was scared to death to try it. Now I’m confident that if I take my time and follow the instructions, I’ll do just fine. I also know that I’ll have the Extension Service office check my pressure canner every year or two to make sure it is in fine working order.
The second week we made salsa. Each week a drawing was held, the winners took home what we canned in class. I won a jar of salsa and used it the next morning for breakfast burritos. Yum!
The third week we pickled. We tried lots of interesting pickled goodies Glenda had made in advance, including dilly beans and pickled peaches. I would have never considered pickling a peach but will now!
The fourth week we made two kinds of jam, one water bath canned and a freezer jam. I had never heard of freezer jam. I really like how quick a freezer jam can be made.
|Blueberry Spice Jam|
|Berry Blitz Freezer Jam|
The final week we froze corn on the cob and learned a lot about dehydrating. I got a dehydrator for Christmas last year and used it quite a bit for about a month, then packed it away. I am getting it back out now, I have lots of fun ideas and the knowledge to make them happen after Glenda’s class!
|Renee prepping corn for freezing|
So about all of my newly acquired knowledge…here’s my first attempt at pickling. I made Martha Stewart’s Sweet and Spicy Bread and Butter Pickles. I bought the littlest cucumbers I could find from Providence Farms from Trenton, Missouri. The total cost for me to make eight pints of pickles was about $6. The resulting pickles were crunchy and full of flavor, but not as much heat I expected from a recipe that included the word spicy in its title.
After completing the pickling class and learning about the role of sugar in pickling (it helps keep fruits and veggies plump), I decided to try the same recipe with Stevia. Glenda was right about sugar keeping cucumbers plump. The batch I made with Stevia ended up limp, the texture was almost mushy. The flavor was just okay, they definitely had a bitter aftertaste from the Stevia.
|Pickles with Sugar on the left, Stevia on the right. Definite color and texture difference.|
I took both the original recipe made with sugar and the second batch made with Stevia to canning class for a side-by-side taste test. One of the sweet gals in class told me that if she could not have sugar, she would have enjoyed the pickles made with Stevia. I guess they weren’t a total flop but I did prefer the batch made with sugar.
If you are in Missouri (or nearby–folks from Kansas came to the classes I attended) and interested in food preservation classes, check out the classes offered through the University of Missouri Extension. I have attended quite a few cooking and baking classes but this one was by far the best value and the highest quality content of any class I have taken outside of my high school home economics classes. Glenda reminds me a lot of Mrs. Anderson, my high school home economics teacher, both full of knowledge and a gentle guiding way to encourage us to get into the kitchen.
Now go on, unplug from the internet for awhile and go can something. Make some pickles today. Or eat some pickles. Or take a jar of pickles to your neighbor. Happy Pickle Party Day!