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Oh Yes, They Can! Residents Preserve Canning Tradition for Families

July 12, 2016
By BETSY?BETHEL - Life Editor ( , OVParent

Like their parents and grandparents before them, local residents are making the time to put up fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy throughout the year.

Several of these canning enthusiasts cited similar reasons for undertaking the task, including the health benefits, cost savings and the general satisfaction of doing it themselves. And their families love it, too.

Billie Jo Garrison, who is 36 and the single mother of five children ages 2 to 20 living on a farm outside Adena, said she began canning so she knows what is going into her children's bellies. Her peers don't always understand her dedication. Rather than going on dates or hanging out with friends, she runs herself ragged tending her garden, picking berries and standing watch over the stove or pressure canner in her 7-by-10-foot kitchen so the fruits of her labor can be enjoyed by her family all winter long.

Article Photos

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Two-year-old Ellie, left, and 5-year-old Remi Sue show their enthusiasm for the tomatoes their family is growing in their garden outside Adena. Their mother, Billie Jo Garrison, said she grows her own food and preserves it to pass down the tradition to her children both for health reasons and to teach them the value of hard work.

Garrison grew up canning at her mother's knee. Her mother also learned to can as a girl because, as the youngest growing up with limited means on a farm in Marshall County, it was expected. "If she wasn't in the field with Dad, she was in the kitchen with Mom," Garrison said of her mother.

Today, Garrison has the freedom to choose to grow and preserve food, and she plans to pass the tradition on to her children.

"At the end of the day, I want my children to know hard work pays off," she said.

Fact Box

Canning Class

Cheryl Kaczor will lead a canning class from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Marshall County WVU Extension office on Barn Drive in Moundsville. There is a nominal registration fee, and registration is required by calling 304-843-1170.

Although 5-year-old Remi Sue doesn't put in much physical labor yet, she loves helping her mom pick ripe vegetables in the garden.

"She's like, 'Look, we did this, Mommy,' and I'm like, yes, we did."

Garrison also is gratified that her 20-year-old daughter has shown interest in carrying on the tradition.

But canning is not just for country folk.

Tom Storch of Woodsdale in Wheeling is a UPS delivery driver who said the primary reason he cans is similar to Garrison's: "Because then I know exactly what's in what I'm eating."

His mother in Sand Hill and both grandmothers in Elm Grove have canned as long as he can remember, and he took it up about15 years ago. He uses his time off on weekends to preserve tomatoes, relish, mustard, pickles, fruit, soup, meat, spaghetti sauce, vegetables and "all kinds of jelly."

His wife, Erikka Storch, a state delegate and president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, said her husband's passion for preserving has a positive impact on the whole family.

"All his food prep has really helped me eat clean," she said, adding he makes tomatoes and spaghetti sauce without sugar and makes sausage that she can eat on her Whole30 food program.

When their son, Seth, left for the University of Kentucky last fall, they sent him with some of his dad's spaghetti sauce and pickles.

It also makes weeknight dinners a breeze for the family, which also includes Alexis, 16, and Payton, 10. They just pop open a can of soup or spaghetti sauce and know they instantly have the makings of a healthy meal.

Cheryl Kaczor of Warwood, Wheeling, a local expert on canning at the West Virginia University Extension office in Marshall County, said Garrison and?Storch are right in line with others she has seen taking up canning in the 21st century.

"I really do think it's because people want to know where their food comes from. They don't want all the preservatives and pesticides," said Kaczor, who teaches canning classes at the Extension and fields phone calls from members of the public with questions about the process.

A longtime canner herself, Kaczor said the most important thing for beginners to remember is to use tested recipes and follow the instructions - to the letter. It only takes one spore of the botulinim toxin to ruin a jar of food, and the illness the poison causes - botulism - is deadly if not treated immediately.

"That's why it's so important to do it right," she said.

Garrison said she believes the reason many people don't can is because they are afraid or think it's too hard.

"So many people are afraid of doing it," she said.

Meggan Pasqualla of Clearview, Wheeling, said she was one of them.

"I had been intimidated definitely over the years. I thought it had to be hard. I (thought I) had to have ingredients that were hard to find. ... It really wasn't hard at all. A lot of it was water and salt."

Pasqualla, a mom of four children ages 3 to 11 and wife of a coal miner, said that while her mother and grandmother canned when she was young, she doesn't remember. Two summers ago, inspired by the farmers she met while working with the Ohio Valley Farmers' Market in Bellaire, she decided to take the plunge.

She got tons of ideas from Pinterest, but she always was very careful that they were from trustworthy sources, including the Ball company.

"I didn't do just mom-and-pop blogs,"?she said. "We know so much more now in how to handle food safely."

Pasqualla said her summer of canning was a success. She felt as if she had accomplished something meaningful, the food was delicious and she saved money.

She said her aunt told her: "Grandma would be proud of you."

While canning pots can cost upwards of $30 and jars are $10-15 a dozen, Pasqualla said her cousin who lives nearby lent her his pressure canner, and she scored a large pot at a yard sale for the hot-water-bath method. (Pressure canning is required for low-acid items, such as green beans and meats, while the hot water bath is used for tomatoes, jelly, salsa and other high-acid foods.) A friend gave her jars and lids that were gathering dust in the basement. She purchased in bulk or was given produce at the farmers' market and canned enough tomatoes, pickles, jelly, green beans and beets to last the year.

"I didn't have to buy a canned tomato product or canned green beans or canned anything for an entire year."

Her favorite was the tomato sauce, which she used for everything from chili to spaghetti to jambalaya. She also enjoyed giving her canned goods as gifts.

"It was wonderful. I loved it," Pasqualla said.

For beginners who need to buy their equipment, Kaczor recommends purchasing cookers, glass jars and lids from a known brand, such as Presto or Ball. She also warned that the newer style ceramic flat-top stoves are not suitable for canning for two reasons: The temperature fluctuates, which can spoil the batch, and the surface could crack under the weight of the canner.

"They need to contact the manufacturer and see if they can can on it," Kaczor said. Tom Storch recommends using a gas stove, but Kaczor said electric will work.

Kaczor said she just purchased a new stand-alone FreshTech electric canner by Ball for the hot-water-bath method that is big enough to do seven quart jars or eight pint jars. She hasn't tried it yet but said it looks like it would be a good alternative for people who have ceramic stovetops.

While jars and rings (if in good condition) can be reused year after year, lids must be purchased new, and the seals on pressure canners and lids should be checked each year, which can be done at any Extension office.

Other than Kaczor herself or the local Extension, good resources for canning guidelines and recipes include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and well-known canning companies. Both Penn State and the University of Georgia have done excellent research on canning, Kaczor said, and she highly recommends "So Easy to Preserve,' by the UGA Extension, what she calls "the Bible of canning." The book also has a companion series of videos on DVD.

Kaczor's next public class on canning will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Marshall County WVU Extension office on Barn Drive in Moundsville. There is a nominal registration fee, and registration is required by calling 304-843-1170. She encourages anyone with questions about canning instructions or who would like to have their equipment inspected to call her at that number.



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