March 17, 2012. Canning

August 14, 1996. The Virginian-Pilot. By Mary Flachsenhaar.

HAZEL SMITH'S October beans. Peggy Ulrey's pepper jelly. Patricia Sykes' sauerkraut. Kelli Lueth's peach preserves.
When these local cooks share a jar of their home-canned specialties with family and friends, they might as well be giving gold.
"People are so grateful because hardly anyone does home canning anymore,'' says Lueth.
Home canning was a way of life when more people lived on farms. Canning, pickling and preserving were the methods folks used to turn summer's harvest into winter's pantry.
Yet a survey by Heinz, a food manufacturer, and Alltrista, a home-canning-product manufacturer, shows that 25 percent of people canning and pickling today have been doing it less than four years.
These days, when fresh and canned foods are plentiful year-round, why would anyone take up the time-consuming pastime of canning?
Lots of reasons.
"My impression is that people aren't processing foods in a big way like they used to", says Carole Thorpe, extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension in Chesapeake. "But they are curious about the process, so they might choose one or two recipes like pickles or salsa to make for their family or to give as gifts.''
The recent surge of interest parallels the rise in popularity of all types of scratch cooking, says Thorpe and other food-trend watchers. It also goes hand in hand with the growing numbers of vegetable gardens and pick-your-own farms.
Home canners often inherited their love of canning from a grandmother, who patiently passed along the do's and don't's of an art that maybe isn't dying after all.
These days, local extension services do what grandmother used to do, dispensing advice to consumers who wonder: What equipment will I need? How do I eliminate the risk of botulism? Where do I find reliable recipes? Meet some home canners who are keeping the art alive and well in Hampton Roads.
At the north end of Knotts Island, N.C., sit the community's only restaurant and store. At the southern tip is the dock where the ferry departs for the mainland. In between are the homes of the 600 families who live on the peaceful island, where life seems unhurried, even sleepy.
But many front doors open into homes like Hazel Smith's, where handmade decorative touches and shelvesful of home-canned foods suggest that somebody here is hard at work, every day, all day.
"We're always busy doing something down here,'' says Smith, a great-grandmother with the talents and the heart of Mayberry's Aunt Bee.
This summer, Smith estimates, she will put up about 75 jars of fruits, vegetables, juices, jams and jellies in the canning kitchen that sits just past the scuppernog grapevines and the fig and apple trees in her backyard. When she and her husband were raising their four children, a typical summer's yield was 300 jars or more.
"Now home canning is my pleasure,'' says Smith, who is a widow. One recent summer day, in the tidy kitchen with crisp white curtains, several thickly frosted sheet cakes sat ready to be delivered to a homeless shelter an hour away in Virginia Beach. A countertop was heaped with handicrafts left over from the island's July peach festival. Smith helped fry 1,700 peach pies for the annual event that benefits the Ruritan Club.
"We are blessed in so many ways,'' she says. "My greatest joy is in being able to share with others.''
From the time she got married at age 18 and learned how to can from her mother-in-law, Smith has been sharing what she makes with others.
"My husband and I had an open-door policy,'' she says. "Friends were always dropping by and of course they were invited to stay for a meal. It was real nice to be able to prepare that meal from things I'd made myself.''
Company might get fresh-baked meatloaf and corn bread but the trimmings were Smith's canned goods - the October beans that are her specialty, collards, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes. And, for starters, a jar of homemade vegetable soup.
When her son lived in Alaska for seven years, Smith found a way for him to enjoy the greens and beans he was raised on. Twice yearly, she sent him a dozen quart jars of her canned goods. She cushioned each jar in several layers of newspaper, before packing it into an aluminum can.
This season apple butter is next on Smith's canning menu - the favorite of a granddaughter, "who likes it so much she could eat six jars at a sitting.'' When it gets too hot in the canning kitchen, Smith will return to her cool living room. But she won't put her feet up. Instead she'll work on the quilt she's making for her church.