With all the rain early in the season followed by an overabundance of sunshine, gardeners throughout Carbon County are getting ready to harvest a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.
They're great - but the problem is that they often all mature at once. It's feast in the late summer, and famine in the winter.
"Yes I Can" is Penn State Extension's solution. It's a food preservation workshop that's been touring northeastern Pennsylvania and soon will be coming to Carbon County.
"A lot of people like to do home food preservation because they like having control of where their food comes from and how it's being processed," explained workshop leader and Master Food Preserver Dawn Olson, "You have that control when you grow the produce yourself or you go to a local farmers' market or local farm stand, and are buying fresh produce and taking it home and preserving it for use throughout the year."
"We cover the basics of home food preservation and specifically talk about canning using a boiling water bath and pressure canning," she continued. "Our purpose is to have people learn how to do it safely and successfully. By following up-to-date procedures, it is rare to get spoilage or a seal failure. You will have a safe product if you follow recommendations."
The most popular ways of preserving foods are freezing and canning. As most people have questions about canning, that is the focus of the workshop. Home canning refers to preserving foods in jars. It gets its name from its commercial equivalent, which is preserving foods in cans.
"Today we are focusing on canning," Olson explained. "That's what people tend to have more questions about. With freezing, there aren't as many safety concerns. We recommend that you only process what you can use within one year. In terms of safety, you can keep it longer - two, three, perhaps four years and it would be safe but the quality of the product deteriorates the longer that it is kept."
"Almost anything can be canned," continued Olson. "You don't want to mess around with combined products. As long as the recipe is from a recommended source, then you will be safely able to can vegetables, jams and jellies, pickles and meats."
Asked what is canning, Olson replied. "What you are doing is taking the food, putting it into a jar and processing it to have it seal and stop any enzyme growth in the food, and to kill any harmful bacteria that might be there."
A recent Monroe County workshop drew a variety of people, mostly women who had prior experience with canning. "I started canning about two years ago and I was scared to death of pressure canning, so I want to learn to do that today," said Rose Genna. "I can tomatoes, pickles, applesauce and peaches to use during the winter. We eat them right out of the jar."
Olson demonstrated the two principal canning techniques: pressure canning - which is used for low acid foods with high temperatures are required for sterilization, and boiling water bath canning - suitable for high acid foods such as fruit which does not require high temperature sterilization.
The first demonstration focused on the canning of snap beans using both the raw pack and hot pack methods in a pressure canner. In the hot pack method, the beans are precooked to allow them to soften, making it easier to fill more product into the jar. In the raw pack method, the beans are placed into the jar and the jar is filled with boiling water.
Either way, the jars are sealed, placed in a pressure canner, and processed according to a recipe.
In the second demonstration, grape juice was mixed with a gelling agent and a desired amount of sugar and boiled to dissolve the ingredients. The mixture was placed into small canning jars, sealed, and placed in a boiling water bath canner, and processed according to a recipe to make homemade grape jelly.
The workshop teaches the techniques to provide quality and safety in home preservation. Using the techniques learned that the workshop, you will be confident of having delicious and healthy fruits and veggies throughout the winter.
The "Home Food Preservation: Yes I Can... Learning the Basics "workshop will be offered on Wednesday, July 31 from 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. at Madonna Hall, 15 East Garibaldi Avenue (Behind our Lady of Mt. Carmel) in Nesquehoning. For information, dates of additional workshops, and to register call 570-421-6430. There is a fee for this workshop.