I Think I Can

During winter, shoppers often cringe at the prices for a pint of blueberries or a quart of strawberries. However, the cost of purchasing fruit shipped to Chautauqua County from thousands of miles away is far greater than just the price.

It’s an unfortunate truth that produce grown in locations such as South America, but consumed in northern latitudes, must first traverse thousands of miles of land before they ever touch a grocery store shelf. The vehicles that are used to transport the produce burn thousands of gallons of gasoline in the process, polluting the air, water and soil in the process. In addition, foreign crops are sometimes grown using unethical, impractical or environmentally unfriendly practices.

The idea of eating local is a concept which many residents of Chautauqua County have embraced. In an area so laden with agriculture, residents feel good about eating locally, knowing about the who, where, when and how their food was grown. Additionally, residents like the idea that their food consumption is helping local farms and farmers alike to prosper.

However, since area farmers can’t grow when there is snow on the ground, residents are often faced with the decision of buying produce from far away, or simply going without it over the winter.

Canning, however, might be the cure to the wintertime blues. By canning fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, residents can enjoy delicious, produce all year-round, as well as support the farmers that make up the plurality of their neighbors.

WHY GO LOCAL?

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables come from California, which means produce in this country travels 1,500 miles on average to get from the grower to the supermarket. Of course, in Chautauqua County, this is closer to 2,500 miles.

This chain of distribution wastes more than fuel alone. Experts note that a good portion of all produce shipped long distances will be damaged or destroyed in transit. And needless to say, the food that survives the journey will not be as fresh as produce grown locally.

Buying local is also the best way to support family farms and workers. Local Harvest, a nonprofit Internet database of farmers’ markets and local food resources, reports that when produce is purchased from a large supermarket, only 18 cents of every dollar spent goes to the grower, and the rest is shared by various middle merchants in shipping and sales. When buying local, through a farmers’ market or community supported agriculture arrangement, buyers cut out the middle merchants, so the bulk of the profits goes directly to the farmer. Those who purchase directly from a local organic farmer also help to direct extra money to support and expand the most sustainable farming methods.

CANNING IS EASY AND

CAN SAVE MONEY

Canning is not an anachronism in the year 2013. Canning allows consumers to buy produce in bulk, which can save hundreds of dollars a year. Buyers can enjoy all the fresh produce they want at the time of purchase, and can the rest for the colder months of the year.

Canning requires very little equipment-and it all can be used again and again. Glass jars, such as Mason or Ball-brand jars, are the standard canning container. These jars rarely break and can be reused, but remember to use new lids every time. The lid of a sealed can will contort when you remove it; a perfect airtight fit is only possible once.

CANNING AT CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION

On Tuesday night, an event teaching about how canning supports local farmers and saves consumers money was held at the Chautauqua County Cornell Cooperative Extension facility on Turner Road in Jamestown. At the event, guests learned about what tools are needed to can as well as how to can and preserve their own strawberry jam.

The event began with a discussion about the differences between jams and jellies.

“Jams are thick spread with the fruit dispersed within them,” said Sharon Reed, Cornell Cooperative Extension master gardener. “Jellies are made when there are not fruit in the mixture. Spreads are lower sugar products, and you crush and chop the fruit, and can be made with or without sugar. Jams are harder to make, but the good news is that, if you mess up while making your jam, there are procedures that you can follow to save them. Preserves are made when fruits are cooked in small, uniform pieces in a little bit of jelled syrup. The fruit holds its shape a little more, so if you like something that is more fruit and has pieces in it, you’re going to want to go with preserves. Some preserves even have nuts in it, so it gives you a chance to get creative. Marmalades are made from soft fruits and have pieces of peel in them. Orange marmalade is the most popular and most marmalades are made with citrus fruits, but they don’t have to be. Finally, butters are when soft pulps are cooked down with sugar. Apple butter, again, is the favorite, but butters can be made from any pulpy fruits.”

The event emphasized the importance of proper canning and preserving. Because the reason that most choose to can is to preserve locally grown and picked fresh fruits and vegetables all year, sanitation is critical during the canning process. Even though guests may have canned with their grandmothers when they were young and can remember the process of canning being a little different, Reed insisted that fastidious attention to sanitation is the only way to ensure safe canning techniques. Luckily, sanitary canning isn’t all that difficult.

“Does anyone remember paraffin seals?” Reed asked. “The paraffin seal, you’re going to put it on when it’s hot, but you don’t know what’s in that wax. There could be mold spores or bacteria in the air. You cannot can fast enough to ensure that there’s nothing in between what you just canned and the wax on that seal. Maybe Grandma did that for a long time, but she got lucky every time. There is an inversion method of canning, but there are too many factors, from the acidity of the fruits to the materials you’re using, there’s no home method of inversion canning that’s safe.”

Following the discussion about sanitation, a discussion about equipment and tools began.

“If you’re doing jams and jellies, a lot of times you’re going to use a small jar,” Reed said. “All you really need is a pan that you can get your jar submerged in an inch of water. If you think about those big turkey roasters that you only use once a year – if you can get your jar in there covered in an inch of water, that’s all you’ll need. You won’t need to go out and buy a special pot.”

However, Reed did mention a few must-haves when it comes to canning. Three integral components to canning are a funnel to help keep the lid of the can sterile while pouring ingredients into the jar, a combination measuring stick and bubbler, to help ensure there is enough room at the top of the jar and to help remove any additional air from the jam and a gripping device for safely taking the jars out of the boiling water. Luckily, all three are usually sold in combination packages at most grocery stores.

“It’s really an an investment, and you’re going to use these items over and over again,” Reed said. “You’re making jam, but you’re also making memories.”

Guests at the event were given a quart of strawberries and the proper materials, and were coached along during the canning process. Following the event, each guests was allowed to take home two jars of jam, as a token of appreciation.

For more information about canning or preserving, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu.