If there's a silver lining in losing my dream job as a newspaper restaurant critic, it's that taking the Grand Canyon-size leap from the keyboard to the professional kitchen has made me a better home cook and caused me reconnect with my collection of cookbooks. (Like everyone else who swooned over Julie & Julia, I cracked open my dusty copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as soon as I got home from the movie. Admittedly, I'm still working up the nerve to try the duck.)
But even though I get a lot of joy out of cooking, one thing still scares me silly: canning. Yes, I tried to learn the basics from my grandmother, but my peaches were dark and soggy and my dill pickles fizzed when I opened them. My results were like a science experiments gone wrong.
However, I'm going to get back in the game again and here's why: I recently got swept up in a "Canvolution," a grass roots movement to encourage the return of this old-fashioned form of putting up foods. A group of food writers and food lovers in Seattle converged and are pushing forward a preserving and pickling agenda boldly called Canning Across America. The kickoff event is this weekend, with demos at farmers markets, classes at community centers and home parties, from coast-to-coast. Check out their website for events—you can also add your own.
I'm hosting a small can-o-rama in my kitchen, but only because I've talked my brainiac buddy Laura (who's this close to getting her PhD in biology) into being our team leader. She's a veteran canner who's going to walk me and some other neophytes through cold packs and hot packs with peaches, jam and pickled green beans.
Of course, this process is nothing new for many dedicated home cooks and a growing number of chefs, too. In Seattle, Jerry Traunfeld (from the lovely Poppy) puts up produce from his pea patch and Renee Erickson from Boat Street Cafe has been crowned the canning queen for capturing the flavors of summer in jars. I'm awful fond of her spicy pickled prunes.
What about you? Are you a serious canner, or is it too much of a hassle?
About the author: Leslie Kelly is the former restaurant critic for the defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She's been cooking around the city and chronicling her journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com.