By Mary Stewart
Historic Downtown Albany, Ore.–Liz Shinn bends over a batch of bubbling golden plum jam, stirring carefully as the sweet condiment reaches the gelling point. A tangy-sweet aroma permeates the air of the charming kitchen in her circa 1880 Victorian home. She harvests hot half-pint canning jars from the dishwasher and sets them on the clean countertop. Quickly, she ladles the hot jam into the jars, cleans the jar rims, aligns jar lids and tightens screw bands. The jars are lifted in to the water bath canner—a type of large kettle—filled with water waiting at 190 degrees. Water levels are checked and the timer is set for 5 minutes of processing.
Liz’s exercise in food preservation is one she practices over and over during the harvest season, as different crops ripen. Her pantry stores a bounty of colorful produce. Liz was introduced to food preservation by her grandmother and had done a limited amount over the years. This year, however, Liz stepped up her skills by taking the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver training. “This is one of the most rewarding things I have done,” says Liz, whose food preservation efforts provide nutritious and delicious foods for her family of seven all year long. “I look at all the jars of food afterwards and say, ‘I did it!’”
To become an OSU Extension Master Food Preserver, Liz attended a seven-week training in the spring and has paid forward the training hours she received by teaching others about the tested techniques. Her main reason for attending the training was to learn more about safety in canning, drying and freezing foods. “One of my big takeaways from the training is that you can’t just take any old recipe and can it safely,” Liz explains.
“Sometimes people preserve foods using methods taught by family members,” says Janice Gregg, OSU Extension faculty who manages the food preservation education program. “It is so important that we follow research-based methods and directions for preserving food at home so we know that the food we serve our families is safe and wholesome.” While the last major change to canning techniques came out in 1988-89, minor changes are continually being made. For example, recommendations came from the jar makers about holding jars in the boiling water bath canner and pressure canner for a few minutes after they are taken off the heat. This practice helps ensure a correct seal.
Both Janice and Liz feel that interest in food preservation is on the rise. “The ‘new’ generations want to know how to cook, how to preserve and how to do what their grandparents used to do,” says Janice. Budding food preservers can learn how to safely and successfully preserve foods from educators at the OSU Extension office in Linn County. Pressure canners may also be brought to the office in Albany to be tested for safety. A Food Preservation Hotline 1-800-354-7319 is also open for calls weekdays (except Wednesday) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through October 11. Master Food Preserver training is open to people of all experience levels and will be offered again in spring of 2014.