Back in style: Learning to preserve food from experts

August 2014 Posted in Food & Drink
Tasha Huebner in her jam cellar. She says it’s a refuge for friends from the zombie apocalypse.

Tasha Huebner in her jam cellar. She says it’s a refuge for friends from the zombie apocalypse.

By Melissa Wagoner

“If there’s a zombie apocalypse, my friends know whose house to run to,” Tasha Huebner said of her “jam cellar of terror.”

As with most old-time cellars, Huebner’s resides in the unfinished basement of her 1890’s farmhouse where the walls are lined with last year’s bounty. The cellar became part of a running joke last year when she photographed some friends in it.

“They had this look of terror on their faces,” Huebner said. Now she photographs most guests down there and is making a collage.

Huebner, a marketing and communications consultant who works from home, moved to Silverton in June 2013 to a house with an apple tree already laden with apples. That was the beginning of her canning frenzy.

“I said, ‘Apples. Okay, I should do something with them,’” Huebner said.

Huebner started with apple butter, moving on to plums, peaches and chutneys.

“It was really good. I haven’t had any total disasters, but I kind of perfected it so the later batches were better. My big favorite was boozy cherry jam,” she said.

Huebner grew up in Chicago where her parents had a garden and canned tomatoes and put up some jam.

“My mom made a plum and red currant jam that was really good,” Huebner said.

Although Huebner does not like to cook, she enjoys finding new canning recipes to try and has a stack of cookbooks she references.

Many choices for canning classes

Silverton Grange
201 Division Street NE, Silverton
Saturday, Aug. 9, 1 – 4 p.m.

EZ Orchards
5504 Hazelgreen Road NE, Salem
Saturday, Aug. 23
Pickling and Chutneys, 9 – 11:30 a.m.
Tomatoes and Salsa, 1 – 3:30 p.m.

OSU Extension Service
Preserving Tomatoes and Salsa
3180 Center Street NE, Salem
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 6 – 8:30 p.m.

Gehlar Wellness Kitchen
939 Oak Street SE, Salem
Monday, Aug. 11, 9 – 11:30 a.m.
and 6 – 8:30 p.m.

“They all sound so good,” Huebner said. “It’s funny because I don’t eat much of it. I sent it to friends, gave it away as gifts and when I travel I take it with me.”

Huebner is a part of a canning and preserving movement that is taking place alongside the local food movement.

The Willamette Valley is especially suited for the beginning canner with its u-pick fields and farm markets. Canning allows people to know how their food was made and where it originated.

For example, when making jam, a canner can decide if she wants a recipe with more or less sugar.

“I refuse to pick my own fruit; I have my limits,” Huebner said. “Bauman’s and Nannemans are two of the big places I get produce. I got some boxes of cucumbers on Silverton Together. I watch out for stuff like that.”

As with basic cooking skills, canning recipes and knowledge were traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. With the advent of supermarkets that cease to be a common common practice, but luckily, some local food organizations offer canning classes.

The Silverton Grange is one, and with 30 regular members there is a lot of knowledge to tap into.

“We have canning classes and we have good sign-ups, but it ends up being mostly grange people,” JoAnn DeFrancesco-Johnson said.

An eight-year Grange member, she said sharing interests and skills plays an important part in the organization.

“My main draw was the people, they were like-minded; that and the garden. I love to can and preserve the food. It really does help to have a community that works together, it really lightens the load,” DeFrancesco-Johnson said.

Cate Tennyson is also a long-time member of the Grange, having become a member in 2008, she is now the Grange Master.

“When I moved back to Silverton and opened a bookstore a lot of the customers were Grange members. They saw the kind of books I was selling and said, ‘you should join the Grange,’” Tennyson said.

One of the newest members is Jan McCorkle who joined a year ago.

“I was looking to get more involved in the community. I love gardening and the more I met the people, I saw we had similar mindsets,” McCorkle said.

Although all three women help with the Grange’s yearly canning classes they come from varied backgrounds with differing areas of expertise. McCorkle is the fermentation expert.

“I have issues with gluten and other allergies and the fermented stuff is helpful. It’s my speed. It takes time, it’s meditative,” McCorkle said.

She works with the Grange to present classes on everything from sauerkraut to sourdough and even home-brewed kombucha tea.

The Grange also offers classes on pressure canning, which can be intimidating to the new canner, but DeFrancesco-Johnson is the resident expert.

“I was always in on canning with my mother-in-law. I got a canning pot for my birthday. When I was raising my kids in Colton we canned everything. We canned milk when we had extra. The nice thing about canning is that you don’t have to thaw it out; you can use it right now. It’s been a real joy,” she said.

The Grange is hoping to become a canning cooperative complete with a certified kitchen stocked with everything needed to preserve and classes for everyone from beginners like Huebner to experts who would like to process food with a group and share the workload.

“There are no more ice men coming to the door; there are no more livery stables; things change. The Grange is built on meeting community needs,” Tennyson said.

And the resurgence of canning is bringing people to their doors to learn how.

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