The Alchemical Kitchen: Yes we can

By Rebecca Brenner

Making time for preserving the year’s bounty.

This month in the Alchemical Kitchen, I can’t seem to get away from the issue of time. I’m taking time to enjoy the last of the fresh summer produce. I’m using time to preserve enough veggies to make it through the winter. I’m working on managing my time in the hopes of making the most of the process.

But most of all, I find myself discussing a lack of time. When I talk about canning, time always arrives to challenge my ideals of being more local year-round. It arrives in clients swearing they just don’t have enough time. I see the effect in grocery carts full of factory-canned vegetables and fruits cruising past me in the check-out line. I wrestle with it as I work to incorporate more seasonal recipes and farm-fresh dinners into my own eating habits, as well as grow a better, more productive vegetable garden.

Lately, as time becomes a main topic in conversation and a reason not to eat local and preserve fresh produce, I’ve learned to just listen. I’m learning that time is a slippery philosophical slope and its management is as unique and personal as those who are concerned they just don’t have enough of it.

The more I listen, the more I believe that fresh, local meals offer us the chance to step out of busy days and slow down and savor our food, family and friends. More so, canning our local foods helps us to mindfully connect to how our food is grown and prepared, shifting us from just grabbing what’s quickest to enjoying our own creations.

I sense that what I eat and don’t eat is the largest part of the Green Revolution. I’m sure that retrieving lost practices such as canning and preserving local foods is the next big step in localism. More than anything, I am positive that debating whether there is or is not enough time will not get my local veggies canned.

I listen and remember how I imagined canning to be before I canned up my first batch of green beans-an entire weekend event at the end of summer that entailed a large industrious kitchen full of wise, experienced preservationists. I guess it could be done this way, but for me it is more practical to make small batches throughout each week-slowly and patiently building my winter supply.

Instead of making canning one big event at the end of the summer, I’ve begun to incorporate it into my lifestyle. A few extra tomatoes at the farmers’ market on Saturday become two pints of tomato sauce on Sunday. One extra pound of green beans from the Canyon’s farmers’ market on Wednesday gets canned in a few pint jars while making dinner that evening. Extra carrots from last week’s CSA share get canned before an afternoon meeting on Friday.

Slowly, over the summer my cupboard begins to fill with canned sauces, tomatoes, carrots, beets and beans. Early on in the season I am labeling salsas, pickles and jams. By fall, my freezer is full of local fruit and homemade pesto-an accumulation of small batches throughout the season. These smaller steps become less of a battle against time and more of a sweet seasonal dance.

Funny enough, making canning a season-long process seems to offer me more time-more time to acquire the tools I need, more time to learn how to can safely, more time to make a mistake and try again. I seem to have all the time in the world when I allow myself to fine-tune my canning skills over a few seasons, learning what I actually will or will not eat each winter. Each conversation I have about time, I remember that it took time for us to become so removed from how our food is grown, processed and preserved, and that it will take time to reacquaint ourselves with the age-old skills of food preservation.

So I encourage you to slow a bit. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time. Take back your ability to rely on your senses and make more of your own food.

Since canning is such a precise science in many ways, I will not share any recipes this month. However, here are some cornerstones for anyone who is new to canning:

Find reputable resources

Canning safely is very important in preventing food spoilage and illness. Find a few good canning books written by reputable professionals who have been canning for long time. My two favorites are “The Blue Book of Preserving,” by Ball and “So Easy to Preserve,” by the Cooperative Extension of the University of Georgia.

Follow instructions and recipes closely

When you are first learning to can, follow all instructions and recipes exactly. All of the recipes in the above-mentioned books have been tested many times for safety. Once you get the hang of canning-and you will-you can take more creative license.

Invest in canning supplies

As with many other new hobbies, at first you’ll need to purchase equipment: a pressure canner, a hot water bath, jars and other supplies. After the initial investment and you’ve become a confident canner, you’ll be canning foods for a fraction of what you would pay for their counterparts at the store. Spoons ‘n’ Spice Kitchenware store in Salt Lake City is a great place to find all you’ll need to can.

Preserve things you’ll actually eat

When you first get your canning books, you will find recipes for everything from basic tomato sauce to unique jalapeño and fruit chutneys. You might do best to focus on salsas, tomatoes, tomato sauces, beans, carrots and beets. Make chutneys and and jam only if you regularly consume chutneys and jam, or have friends on your gift list who do. (Our editor Pax will eat chutney for breakfast if you let him. This makes him easy to gift.)

Take a class

Find a preservation class at your local farm (I just finished teaching a series at Copper Moose Farm) or local University Extension programs. Utah State University Extension in Salt Lake County offers canning workshops, classes and resources. The University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program offers a class September 10-17 for $69. You can also create your own classes-purchase one of the books above and invite some like-minded friends into the kitchen and get canning.

Share the responsibility

Once you and your family and friends become more canning savvy, share the responsibility. One person can be in charge of sauces, one root veggies, one salsas. Once everyone has canned their assigned veggie, exchange jars and enjoy local food throughout the winter.

Rebecca Brenner, Ph.D., is a nutritionist and owner of Park City Holistic Health. For more healthy DIY recipes visit her at and

This article was originally published on August 29, 2009.