I recently read this article on Salon.com where the author essentially argues that canning food is expensive; it's not en vogue because of the economic downturn, it's merely one in a long line of expensive (female) hobbies disseminated by "foodie propaganda." And by the way, sucka, the people who've been feeding you this uber-hip trend? They're professionals — they're making money off their canned food. You're just buying it.
To be fair, the author, Sarah Karnasiewicz, is not being a jerk. The article was well-thought out. And I agree with large parts of it. But it's not the whole story. (And as a woman, I find it fascinating that 'female' hobbies are trivialized based on expense. No one looks down their noses at men for playing golf. After all, it's far more expensive, and these men they are emulating are PROFESSIONAL golfers. They actually MAKE MONEY from this. And You, Sir, Are No Tiger Woods!) – and thank goodness on that last part.
So before we all go off dismissing canning and preserving as some sort of cutesy hobby that allows women to serve fancy jam-laden desserts at hipster cocktail parties, I'd like to briefly explain why I've personally gotten into canning.
In 2006, my canning adventures began, thanks to a garden with too many tomato plants. My husband made a big deal about the fact that I had planted way too many tomato plants. I was intent on proving him wrong. I had planted just the right amount of tomato plants…as long as I was planning on canning a year's worth of pasta sauce and salsa. Maybe some chutney as well. And some barbecue sauce. And sweet and sour. Yes…the perfect amount of tomato plants.
I did a fair amount of research that summer, preparing for the August harvest. I was pretty proud of what I had accomplished. I had never known a single person who had canned their own food (I might have known people, but certainly didn't experience them as food canners). I was born and raised in Silicon Valley. My grandparents were from Los Angeles. We don't do a lot of canning 'round these parts (at least not these days).
This was my very own accomplishment. I had discovered something, made something. Something valuable. I felt like Christopher Columbus and the Native Americans all rolled into one.
The following April I was listening to NPR. Barbara Kingsolver was being interviewed about her soon-to-be-released book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The idea of being self-sufficient had been growing in me for a number of years. The soil in the Bay Area is amazing. I felt a loss of what used to be a valley filled with orchards, farmers and a vibrant canning industry.
My views are occasionally pessimistic: I worried about the ramifications of large population increases, soil contaminated by pesticides and chemicals, and a generation of people no longer aware of how to care for themselves should everything not be available to them at the corner store.
Within worry is always hidden opportunity. For me, this was an opportunity to learn something valuable that would allow me to feel the weight of my own power. We are all creators and I was gonna create me some food!
I bought Barbara Kingsolver's book and relished in the opportunity to attempt my own urban homestead, in my own small way. I don't have a specific end goal, though my best friend and I always talk about the Holy Grail of owning our own goats and chickens. For now, I am focusing on seeing how much of my food I can grow and preserve throughout the year, for the least possible cost.
I don't do this to be cute, though my husband really thinks I do look very cute in this apron:
I actually do this because I want to be able to teach my children something that will always be of value to them. And I want them to respect food. I want them to know where it comes from and I want the proper foods to be nourishing their bodies. I want them to respect the very hard work that farmers perform and the immense value that provides all of us.
I want to imagine that when I am gone, my children and grandchildren and great-great grandchildren will talk about "the family recipe" for the perfect marinara.
I am Italian after all, I should know this shit.
As the author of the Salon.com article pointed out, I too have made ridiculously expensive canned food. But for the most part, I spend less than I would if I were buying it from a store. In general, I am a very practical gal.
This recipe is a perfect representation of that. The Tigress Can Jam ingredient of the month is the ever-so-sweet BERRY.
If I was being hip, I would have made olallieberry and thyme cordials. That's what I wanted to make. I actually still intend to at some point because my God, mixed with some vodka or chambord – oh my.
Instead I was immensely practical. I have a lemon tree and am always looking for ways to put it to use. I have a CSA that's currently giving me 8 baskets of strawberries a week. I have two kids and a plethora of neighbors' kids who spent time at my house. Put them together and what do you get?
Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate!
This recipe is adapted from Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving and makes approximately 3 quarts of canned concentrate with enough left over for a fresh glass for yourself. Just add ice.
6 cups strawberries, cleaned and hulled
4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 cups sugar
In a food processor (or blender) puree strawberries in batches.
Transfer strawberry puree to a stainless steel saucepan over medium-high heat. DO NOT BOIL. Add lemon juice and sugar and stir to combine.
Using a candy thermometer to measure (dip it halfway in the mixture and don't let it touch the pan) heat to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Test it every few minutes, it will get there quickly. Remove from heat.
Ladle mixture into jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim, center lid on jar and add screw band.
Place jars in canner. Jars should be covered by an inch of water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.
Don't forget to put the lid on!
Remove lid after processing and let jars sit for 5 minutes before removing.
Remove jars, cool and store. The voila! picture is at the top of the article, of course. Go take a look at it again. Purdy, huh?
When you're ready to use your concentrate, pour it in a pitcher, fill the quart jar with water and add that to the pitcher as well. Test the strawberry lemonade and if it's thicker than you prefer, you can add additional water 1/4 cup at a time until you reach your preferred balance.
This strawberry lemonade is amazingly good. And imagine how happy it will make you in the middle of winter when fresh strawberries and lemons are no where in sight. And because of what I pay for my CSA, the fact that I grow my own strawberries as well, have a lemon tree, and buy my organic sugar in bulk from bins – I figured the cost of this to run around $1 – $1.25 for a pitcher. And it's super quick to make.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is this: stick it, Salon.com.