How to Throw a Canning Party
Whether canning preserves or putting up a batch of beans, preserving and canning work gets done much faster when you have many hands to help!
For Marisa McClellan, a young food writer and teacher from Philadelphia, home canning is an all-consuming passion.
"Food preservation is making a comeback," notes Marisa, adding that cooks of all ages are interested in capturing fresh flavors and doing it affordibly. "My goal is to help people let go of their fears about canning by making it accessible and fun."
Raised amid Oregon's abundance, Marisa grew up helping her mother transform wild berries and backyard apples into jams and sauces. "Years later, in college, I picked up a nifty old pint-size Ball jar with a wire clamp closure and started a jar collection," she says. "I used them to hold everything from sugar to leftovers. They even doubled as drinking glasses.
"Then, five years ago, I went blueberry picking with friends and came home with 10 pounds of fruit and a craving for jam. I got right back to using my jars for their intended purpose."
Now she fills hundreds of jars each season with pickled vegetables, salsa, soup stock, whole tomatoes and more.
With a master's degree in writing, Marisa extended her kitchen addiction to her keyboard two years ago, launching a blog, foodinjars.com. Aiming to open more eyes to the world of preserving, she shares personal canning adventures, food photos, technique tutorials and recipes for a potpourri of canned goods.
"My readers are from all walks of life, from the city and country alike," she says. "Some are longtime canners excited to find kindred spirits. Others are novices ready to roll up their sleeves. They share an appreciation for how wonderful home-canned food tastes and the fact they know exactly what went into it, because they put it there."
A Jarring Experience
Eager to give the venerable art of canning a new twist, Marisa teaches classes around southeastern Pennsylvania. Her students do everything, from sterilizing and processing jars to setting them out to cool and listening for the musical ping, a sound she calls "the symphony of sealing."
On occasion, Marisa is the guest presenter at a canning party, where friends get together, break out the canning gear and spend an afternoon "putting up" with each other. "Canning parties are a blast, and a great way to tackle a good deal of preserving," she says. "Everyone leaves the party with a feeling of accomplishment. You take home something you've made, and knowledge that will help you to do more of it in the future."
(Get tips on hosting your own canning party below.) "You don't need a huge farm-style kitchen and fancy equipment to can—just a bit of counter space, a stove, a sink and a few pots," she adds. Nor do you need a root cellar to hold your bounty, says Marisa, who lives with her husband in a compact apartment. "Scott's accustomed to finding canned goods in our front- hall closet, our dining room cabinet and even tucked under the bedroom dresser!" she says.
Currently on Marisa's front burner is the completion of a canning cookbook, her first. But she reserves sunny weekends for trips to U-pick farms and farmers markets, followed by a canning extravaganza. "There's nothing like reaching into your cupboard in the dreary days of winter and pulling out a jar of summer," she says.
Tips for Throwing a Canning Party
Why can alone when you can can with friends? Here are some tips from the Washington State Fruit Commission and the Northwest Cherry Growers on how to plan a preservation party:
- Pick out your produce and recipe When you combine prep work and processing time, a canning recipe can take an hour or more to complete. Limit your party to three recipes. Plan to make a full batch, but don’t double it. Altering a recipe’s quantities and times may affect the quality and safety of the final product.
- Gather your tools Have these basics on hand (or assign guests to bring them): jars, lids and rings; heavy-bottomed cooking pots; a roomy stockpot to use as a water-bath canner; sharp knives and a grater; stirring spoons and ladles; measuring cups and spoons; jar grabbers; a funnel; clean towels; and hot pads.
- Send invitations Mail invitations to guests about three weeks ahead. Include how much and what type of produce, other ingredients or canning supplies to bring. Also tuck in the recipes you’ll use as a preview.
- Plan some snacks Give guests something to nibble and sip. Incorporate fruits you’ll be using into beverages, and pick up breads, meats and cheeses to serve.
- Set up stations Clear off counters and tabletops to make ample room for work stations to sanitize equipment, prep produce, fill jars and seal, boil and cool your finished batch. Assign guests to each station and have only one recipe going at a time.
- Jam out! Karaoke with your canning? Sure! Stir some of these tunes into a party playlist: Cherry, Cherry (Neil Diamond), Blueberry Hill (Chubby Checker), I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye) and Strawberry Fields Forever (The Beatles).
- Label your labors "Mystery jars" collect dust in the pantry, so clearly label your goods with contents and canning date. With printed labels, pens, decorative ribbons and fabric on hand, guests can create personalized wrappings for cooled jars.
This story originally appeared in Country Woman magazine August/September 2011.
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