Editor’s Note: As we gear up for the Can-A-Rama weekend next week, we look back at last year’s event as seen through the eyes of one of our backstage helpers!
A sunny Saturday at Seattle’s Pike Place Market is bound to be mayhem with crowds of foodies. Last August 13 in the midst of fruit vendors, fish throwers, and coffee roasters, the Canning Across America team set up shop under a pop up tent on the cobblestone streets eager to show off their knowledge, creativity, and playful attitudes for the National Can-It-Forward Day event. With various cooks from the gluten-free favorite Jeanne Sauvage to the rabble rousing Shibaguyz, the day was packed with innovative demonstrations and delectable samples. Each demo alternated between the creation of a canned product and example of how to use it in other dishes, showing passers-by that canning isn’t just about jelly.
I was located in the prep station, conveniently partitioned off to the side of the kitchen set-up. Surrounded by boxes of jars, produce, and gadgets, we back-stagers were in charge of getting every ingredient and tool ready for the show. Sound hard? The quick turnaround of dicing veggies and scrubbing pots in our makeshift wash-basins was not a stressful race as one might expect with so many culinary demos. It was full of laughter, interaction from playful bystanders, and so many delicious samples and snacks. The Ball Canning crew really knew what they were doing and kept churning out finished products as fast as we had the ingredients prepared. Between the crowd, the lively team, and the beautiful weather, the day was both jovial and informative. Thankfully technical difficulties were minimal, no fingers or eyebrows were lost, and through the curtain separating stage from sideline, I gained more knowledge about canning techniques than I ever thought possible.
The morning began with Jeanne, who whipped up a beautiful mixed berry jam that was served to the audience on fresh baguettes from Le Panier. After the demo, retro pastry chef Kelsey Angell of the Pink Door Restaurant swooped in like Lucille Ball meets a Hell’s Angel to show how to use that jam to make a Mixed Berry Torta with a flaky golden lattice that left us gluten free’ers salivating. Next up was a pickling tutorial by Allrecipes’s Judith Dern. The cooked cukes were turned into dill pickle and cream cheese sandwiches by Diane LaVonne of Diane’s Market Kitchen generating much excitement from the crowd for the how-to of such a simple treat. Who knew that with the help of the Ball Home-Canning kit, pickling was literally as easy as one, two, three? The next project stayed on the savory course with canned tomatoes, (courtesy of preserving blogger Brook Hurst Stephens) which were transformed into an aromatic seafood soup by French chef Phillipe Thomelin of Olivar Restaurant. With the help of a few additions including saffron, fresh scallops, and olive oil, Chef Thomelin had heads turning and necks craning. “I thought this was a canning demo?” one man said out in the peanut gallery. It is! Look what you can whip up with a dash of fish! Last but not least were the Shibaguyz Shannon and Jason Mullet-Bowlsby, who kept energy high for the finale of pepper jelly, a spicy addition to the bunch. Several stragglers stopped by the prep station asking to buy a jar of the hot sweet treat. Although no products were up for auction, they weren’t left empty handed but directed to the Canning Across America recipe section to make their own!
With rising trends in locavorism, home-growing, and community gardens, it’s no wonder that canning has stepped up as a serious new fixture in the food world. The concept has changed from a technique to survive winter into a wonderful way to enjoy seasonal flavors year round—while also getting really creative. Sorry jam, your glory days are over. Pickled vegetables, chutneys, jellies, syrups, and pie fillings have bumped up from their status as artisanal treats purchased in gourmet shops to the latest DIY projects. Pickled lemon asparagus, ginger fig jelly, or spicy peach tomatillo salsa anyone?
Not only is canning fun, but it’s affordable. As a college student, I’m on a tight budget but would rather cook than eat cheap, processed foods. Making my own is a bit more laborious, but a labor of love that I find relaxing, educational, and comforting. I’ve loved canning ever since I starting playing with the surplus from my aunts fig tree. It has only been a few years but has become a seasonal ritual that allows me to indulge in nostalgia for other seasons and regional flavors. It’s economical, especially if you grow your own produce, and it’s fun to do with friends or family. Last summer my mom and I made blackberry jam (a hysterically messy, laughter infused process) that I am still giving as gifts.
Last fall, I used my canning equipment for autumnal flavors. I went to the farmers market then made pumpkin butter, applesauce, and pickled cauliflower using the jars from the polished off strawberry and fig jams I made this summer! Unfortunately my canning bath is at home in Seattle but I make small batches in my pint-sized New York apartment. You don’t always need to make an event out of it, sometimes it’s nice to just experiment a little, especially if you’re prone to stockpiling your cabinets with surplus but take your time getting to the bottom of a jar. I also like to make one big batch of jam or fruit butter and add different spices to different jars at the end. That way I get to see which flavor combinations I like the best without making a dozen batches.
Canning isn’t only about tradition anymore–it’s also about freedom of expression. Work with what’s in season with the help of local markets, reuse your jars, swap with friends, and get crazy. Don’t forget to read the safety book on safe home canning though as it’s crucial to do it properly– you don’t want your loved ones to get a gift that keeps on giving (in a bad way!).
CAA Contributor Kayla Harvey is in her senior year of undergraduate studies for photojournalism at Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City. She is an avid baker and canner during her summers at home in Seattle and drags her concoctions back across the country to savor Northwest produce year-round. She is working on a photojournal on educating children about nutrition through community gardens and school programs.