There’s maybe nothing better, in my humble opinion, than making food among friends. The process of working together, cooperating to get something accomplished, tasting, adding, sharing kitchen wisdom, problem-solving, and the inevitable laughter and conversation that comes from it all is deeply satisfying and brings me a sense of personal peace I find in very few other places.
On Wednesday, July 11, I attended my first session as a member of the community supported orchard of the West End Food Co-op‘s Community Cannery. This project is a unique feature of the emerging Toronto-based food co-operative, and an empowering concept in the wake of disappearing canneries across the country.
The basic premise of the project is that community members sign up at the beginning of the growing season for eight sessions of canning (June – October), making use of the freshest seasonal ingredients as they become available, and collectively preserving them through the making of jams, jellies, pestos, preserves, and pickles.
Like a Community Supported Agriculture share, with the Community Supported Orchard, payment is made in advance. This allows the farmers the security of receiving capital upfront, and absorption of the risks or benefits of the growing season by the consumers of the produce (in this case, us the canners).
During this particular session, we worked with beautiful red raspberries, which we crushed by hand into a low-sugar jam.
Our fearless leader, James, explained to us the great tip to ask at farmers markets for ‘jam berries’ – the ones that may already be mushy, though still delicious, or still have their rasps attached – as they tend to be less expensive yet of parallel quality for jam-making as really good-looking raspberries. These kinds of B-grade fruits are also available (often upon request) at grocery stores.
After picking out a few little black bugs (an excellent sign – if bugs don’t find our produce good enough to eat, we may wish to question how much we want to eat it) and squishing the berries, we added pectin, a bit of sugar, and put the concoction into a great big pot to bubble for a bit before canning.
Post-heating, we got back together to funnel it into the sterilized jars we had laid out ahead of time. The smell was overpoweringly delicious, and growing hungry in the rapidly-heating kitchen, we snacked between steps on pesto from the last canning session with bread and local apples.
Here the jars are placed in long lines and at a distance to speed up the cooling and setting process. Some interesting tips: If you make jam that doesn’t set quite the way you want it to, feel free to open up the jars and toss the contents into your next batch to try to correct it. There’s no harm in trying again with the same ingredients. As well, freezing berries before canning them will have no impact on the jam-making process. If you have more fruit than you know what to do with but don’t have time to make jam at that moment, toss it into the freezer, and come back to it to make preserves later.
Project number two for the evening was… can you guess by the ingredients? Here they are, soaking in salt in order to draw some of the water content out of the veggies so that what we wind up with does not turn to mush in the jars.
Zucchini relish got its start with a great big grating party on one end of the kitchen. We removed the stem and a chunk of the veggie below the stem, as there is an enzyme produced there, where the blossom is close, that will start to break down the zucchini even after it has been canned. Here, a cannery member whisks the seasoning for the relish, including cider vinegar, sugar, celery seed, turmeric, nutmeg, and mustard seed.
After draining and rinsing our vegetables from their salty water, we add the seasoning and heat the mixture over the stove and pour it into jars.
There’s a bit of the process missing from these images, but it includes levelling the amounts in each jar, adding lids, and submerging the jars in a pot of boiling water before setting them out to cool.
James explains one of the intricacies of canning as we get ready to select our goodies to take home – two beautiful jars of raspberry jam, and two jars of zucchini relish. I look forward to what the next session brings in terms of new understandings, good conversations, and beautiful jars of preserves to adorn the shelves and tickle the tastebuds.