This is the first blog post in a series about food preservation. For the next few months, Mary Lowe, longtime Central Oregon resident and food preservation enthusiast will be sharing her knowledge, experiences, and resources for all things food preservation. From drying to freezing to canning to kitchen mishaps and canning triumphs, follow along with her food preservation adventures, and maybe even start your own along the way.
It Started With Peaches
By, Mary Lowe
My father, in the last few years of his life, shared a memory of how much he had enjoyed the canned peaches my grandmother made. That shared memory started me on an adventure that has stretched over several decades.
With a desire to do something nice for my father, I decided to can some peaches for him. Bear in mind, I had never canned a peach, or anything, before and was only moderately proficient in the kitchen. I was in my mid-thirties with 2 small children, a part-time job and a husband who worked away from home for up to 12 hours a day. But, I was determined to produce the perfect canned peach for my father’s enjoyment. It was serendipitous that I possessed the perfect publication to guide me, The Ball Canning Book. I don’t remember how it came to be in my possession – did i buy it, was it given to me – I don’t remember. But, it had beautiful pictures and great instructions. I sallied forth, purchased some peaches from a regional farm and a water bath canner from a local hardware store. And so it began.
I shooed the children away, several times, and spent a few delightful and messy hours making canned peaches. A few jars broke in the canner and there was a sticky mess on the counter and floor and every surface I had touched. But, tada, I was able to present my father with a few jars of precious canned peaches.
The look of joy on his face when he saw them, the expressions of deliciousness as he ate them, were well worth the money, time and mess. I felt that I had accomplished something truly wonderful and deeply satisfying.
The following year there were more canned peaches. The next year I added canned pears to my repertoire. And each year after that I tried my hand at more and different canned produce. I was not always successful, sometimes there were horrible failures and lots of ruined produce. But, my food preservation adventure continued.
Then, life got complicated. There were family illnesses, deaths, money issues, children growing up and leaving for college and changes in employment. I put the food experiment, quite literally, on the back burner for several years.
Fast forward a decade. No children at home, my husband disabled and my workplace experiencing a challenging series of events. I was stressed beyond measure and looking for a release for that stress. It was then that I chanced upon a small news article about a food preservation class looking for students. Instantly, a light went on. I felt suddenly hopeful. I enrolled in the class and it turned out to be all that I had hoped for – a friendly, highly qualified and patient teacher, a group of people equally excited about the possibilities of the class as I and several weeks of food adventures. Each week we learned something new about preserving food that included a lecture and lots of hands-on time in the kitchen. There were adventures I had never considered would be part of this class, food science and safety, specialized tools and utensils for each process and how to use them, best practices for canning fruits, vegetables and meat and where to find a huge variety of safe and delicious recipes. Then we learned about freezing foods and, something I had never considered before, drying foods. As the weeks went on we also learned about smoking meats and making fresh cheese. We even took a few field trips both near and far, to an innovative teaching kitchen and restaurant, an orchard and a university with a food science department and laboratory.
My stress was relieved, I was happy and hopeful, I had new friends and a renewed interest in this useful and exciting hobby, food preservation.
I have continued to preserve and my pantry is full of both the traditional and exotic. Almost daily, these foods are part of our diet. I share my products with friends, co-workers and neighbors and I always have a gift handy to give someone.
So, do you want to have a food adventure? What will be your incentive – a jar of peaches, or pears, or pickles? May I suggest that you dive in and learn, and learn how to use the most up to date and scientific processes and recipes available. Here are some ideas to get you started, sign up for Preserve at Home-Oregon, an online course available to all for a small fee. Or maybe you want to do what I did, sign up for the Master Food Preserver course through Oregon State University Extension office. OSU Extension also offers several short workshops throughout the year on a variety of food preservation topics. (Because of the pandemic, a lot of these courses have been canceled, postponed or are presented virtually. But, they will return as our battle with COVID-19 is won.) On their website, you can download food preservation publications, most are free. If you have a specific question, you can “Ask an Expert.” How to connect with these suggested sources is listed below.
OK, now it’s up to you. The adventure is on. Be sure to let me know how you’re doing on your adventure or if you have any questions.
Coming soon, Food Preservation #2: Trust the Scientists
Mary Lowe and her husband live in Central Oregon on 5 acres on the canyon rim of the Deschutes River. She is mother to 2, grandmother to 6, a local graphic artist, an enthusiastic food adventurer and a current OSU Master Food Preserver volunteer. Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Master Food Preserver program
Preserve at Home course
Ask an Expert
Publications and other resources