Grandma's summer strawberry preserves aren't the quaint anachronism they once were. Once the bastion of sweet old ladies and hardcore health nuts, canning or "putting up" everything from jams and tomatoes to zucchini, green beans and potted meats is the hippest hobby around.
Part eco-warrior, part granny-chic, returning to the old ways of preserving summer's bounty is a skill as sweet as fresh peach jam — and not surprising considering the number of new backyard food gardens threatening to overwhelm their enthusiastic owners, according to Merrilee Olson of PreserveSonoma.
"Canning is so huge right now. And I think that's been a natural outgrowth toward sustainability," Olson says. "People are going to the farmers market and seeing this beautiful produce and thinking, &‘How can I capture this?' And they're also much more concerned about where their food comes from and exactly what's in it. Those two things have created a kind of perfect storm for people to learn how to preserve again."
She now operates the fledgling PreserveSonoma out of a commercial kitchen in Sebastopol, offering canning and preserving classes several times a month. For groups of six or more people, she'll come to your home and host a canning party. Canning is a simple process to learn, but to be safe requires attention to detail. It's no myth that canning gone wrong can make you very sick. Take a class or read a book before you try it.
Where to learn: Find details at Olson's website: preservesonoma.com.
Where to buy equipment: The best spot to find canning equipment is at local hardware stores. Olson also recommends Cultivate (186 North Main Street, Sebastopol, 707-824-1400) for fancier gift jars or large sauerkraut jars. Online, she recommends lehmans.com.
Where to get fruit: Don't have enough of your own backyard bounty? Join with friends or neighbors and "glean" your neighborhood for unpicked fruits or veggies (always ask first, of course). Buy fruits and veggies in bulk from local farmers. Or, just troll the local farmstands for what's at the peak of the season.
— Heather Irwin