Canning pros enjoy summer bounty, like these Sour Lemon Dilly Beans, all year long. (Photo courtesy Beth Dixon)
Long after summer’s finest peppers, beans and berries have disappeared from the farmers market, savvy canners are still enjoying the season’s best. While they’re chomping on crisp carrots in a dilly brine and spreading peach preserves on toast, we’re supplementing our diets with lackluster cold-weather produce and wishing we had planned ahead. But fear not; though small-batch food preservation has its ins and outs, the concept is simple: Make the summer produce you love last all year long, so you, too, can enjoy the warmer months, even in the dead of winter.
“The stuff that’s going to have huge bumper crops is really good for canning,” says Shalom Farm Volunteer and Education Coordinator Sara Schmatz. She spends her days on the farm, handling and harvesting some of your favorite summer fruits and veggies. “When tomatoes come in, in the heat of the summer,
everybody’s got huge bulk rates and ‘seconds’ available,” she adds. In addition to aiming for bulk season, Schmatz recommends starting out on the preservation path by making quick-pickles or freezer pickles, “a canning gateway drug” that’s ideally suited for cucumbers: “No stove, no heat, no risk of botulism!” When it comes to fruit, peaches — which arrive in abundance this time of year — make easy, beautiful jams.
RVA Swappers founder and intrepid homesteader Beth Dixon learned how to preserve food as a little girl at her father’s heels. During adulthood, she rekindled her love for the bygone pastime: “I wanted to know what I was feeding my family and to save money, but also because it’s a fun hobby and I find it cathartic and rewarding.” According to Dixon, farmers and farm stands like Farm to Family will often save “pick-outs,” the ugly produce that doesn’t sell, for their canning customers — all you have to do is ask.
Ready to put a lid on it? Dixon advises first-time canners to minimize food safety risks by starting with water bath canning: a process intended for foods with a higher acid content, such as tomatoes and pickled vegetables. This method requires minimal equipment investment; any heavy-duty metal stockpot is sufficient, and companies like Ball and Fillmore sell starter kits online for around $15. For a definitive canning resource, Dixon recommends picking up the Ball Blue Book — a canning tome full of safety tips and beginner recipes — and you’ll be canning in no time.
WEB EXTRA: If you didn't get your fill of pickled foods goodness in this article, click here for a tasty freezer pickles recipe from Stephanie Ganz to tide you over.