A group of twelve convened Saturday afternoon, August 29th, to undertake an ambitious canning adventure. The group was comprised mostly of Slow Food Dallas members–some had home canning experience, others none. All shared a love of good food. Three recipes had been chosen based on the recommendations of the group. We would make Peaches in Brandy, Watermelon Rind Pickles, and Chow Chow (actually Piccalilli, Carmen’s Great-Grandmother’s recipe).
Two of the recipes, the Watermelon Pickles and the Chow Chow, required some advance prep work followed by a resting period. Otherwise all the prep and production work for the three recipes would be completed on-site that afternoon by those participating.
We started the day with a 25 pound case of peaches, a 25 pound case of green tomatoes, eight dozen jars, at least 15 pounds of sugar, and countless other spices and ingredients. We devised a strategy based on prep and process time and determined it was best to start with our peaches recipe. Once the peaches were in jars and ready to start processing in the hot water bath, we moved on to the watermelon pickles. As soon as those were ready to go into jars we ramped up the chow chow processing. In just four hours time we had everything processed with only the clean-up remaining.
One of the most amazing and unplanned aspects of the afternoon related to our utilization of leftovers. Our team of twelve showed great dexterity and creativity when it came to our by-products and overages. It was an impressive display of imagination and resourcefulness with a goal of nothing going to waste. The remaining simple syrup from the peaches went on to become Gloria’s mojitos and Jim’s hummingbird food. The leftover peach slices went home with several people in extra mason jars–mine became a delicious peach and lavender tart. The water the peaches had been boiled in (to loosen their skins) was so beautiful no one wanted to throw it out, so it became a tea infused with a rich peach essence. The watermelon meat was divided and shared. Some of the remaining green tomatoes went on to be served for dinner as fried green tomatoes. And, the last bit of them were cooked up on Sunday in an additional batch of chow chow using a different recipe. The peach pits and skins were the only waste we generated and that went into Jim’s compost to live another day as food for his garden.
We had agreed to share all the costs and then divide the output. When all the receipts had been totaled we had spent $206. For the modest sum of $17/per person, we each netted 3 half-pints of Peaches, a pint Chow-Chow, and a pint of Watermelon Pickles. We had extras of a few things, plus the remaining peach slices, so everyone helped themselves to a leftover of their choice as a bonus.
Midway through the afternoon, we created a small, unplanned feast to fortify our energy. Kathryn makes fig jam, using figs from her own tree, and brought a jar of it to share. She also brought a baguette. Jim located a wonderful hunk of cheddar cheese in his fridge. We had loads of tasty watermelon. The snack helped propel us towards our big finale.
Canning Across America and Ball had sent a canner and accessories which I had designated as a door prize. Everyone put their name in a bowl and at the end of the day we drew the winner’s name– and Kate won.
All and all, it was a great experience. There we were shoulder to shoulder, all pitching in, enjoying an afternoon of community, good cheer and fellowship with one another.
Later, as I was reflecting back on the day I thought what a natural, primal thing it is to do–cooking with others. Since the dawn of time, cooks have been gathering, tending their fires, and feeding their people.
CAA Contributor Kelly Ingram is a sales executive, writer, and a passionate champion for good food, gardening and canning. She comes from a long line of home gardeners with many early memories assisting her family’s canning projects. She has taken that expertise into her own kitchen and over the past several years has been perfecting her signature product – Dill Pickles. She is the Program Director for Slow Food Dallas in Dallas, TX.