Canning 101

From left, Canning 101 organizers and teachers Ellen Magee, Kathleen Splane, Phyllis Connor and Henry Bennett gather in the Roxana firehall kitchen on March 10 to share their knowledge of this mode of food preservation.

On Nov. 15, when life was normal, Bennett Orchards put a post on their Facebook page indicating they were considering co-hosting, with Magee Farms, a food canning and jarring workshop. “Who would be interested?” they asked.

On Feb. 13, another Facebook post indicated there had been an overwhelming response to that offer, and a class had been arranged with the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension on March 10 at the Roxana firehall. The three-hour class was called Canning 101, and Facebook friends were asked to register on-line or by mail.

By Feb. 24, it was announced that that class was full and registration had closed. Additional classes were likely to be scheduled later in the spring. The warm winter had got people thinking early of strawberry-picking at Magee’s on Route 54, peach-picking at Bennett’s on Route 20, and tomatoes so bountiful there would be too many to eat raw, so many they would scream to be turned into jars of sauce!

On March 10, as scheduled, eager attendees, young and old, men and women, were graciously welcomed to the class by co-hosts and farmers Henry Bennett and Ellen Magee. For many, the class was their first introduction to canning. Others remembered watching their mothers and grandmothers at the task and wanted to continue family traditions. And at least two had tried to can but had unsuccessful results and wanted to learn the right way.

Canning 101 was taught by the Cooperative Extension’s Kathleen Splane. Her areas of expertise are nutrition, food safety and health promotion. She also cans at home for her family. With Splane was volunteer Phyllis Connor — who, with her husband, owns a small farm and maximizes all that they harvest. She demonstrated in the firehouse kitchen everything that Splane taught in the classroom.

“Phyllis has so many cool skills — she even grinds her own wheat from the field to make their bread,” said Splane.

It turns out that the bottom line of canning is science. The class learned that prevention of botulism includes factors such as selecting the best produce, knowing the pH of the specific fruit or vegetable to be canned and applying the appropriate time-temperature relationship. Attendees learned about the equipment that is necessary for canning and saw it put into action by Connor in the kitchen. The group applauded as, one by one, of the lids of her five jars of tomato salsa popped and could be seen to be concave — indicating a properly sealed product.

Splane’s last piece of advice was to go to the website at www.homefoodpreservation.com, considered the bible for safe canning. It provides many tested recipes that include specific instructions regarding pH, temperature and time. From the website, one can also purchase the accompanying book.

Dates were discussed for future classes. Possibly, something could be arranged for a group of novices to can together under supervision…

But that was a week before normalcy gave way to social distancing and then shelter-in-place.

On March 19, Bennett Orchards posted again on its Facebook page: “We all need signs of encouragement during difficult times. Currently, we’re in partial bloom but warm temps have us anticipating full bloom in a few days. We’re optimistic that mild weather this spring will lead to an amazing crop of Bennett Peaches in summer 2020. Stay strong during these challenging times. There’s a peach at the end of the tunnel with your name on it.”