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The Art and Challenge of Canning

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As the first autumn day quickly passes, the urgency to collect the remains of the garden harvest becomes a top priority, particularly in parts of the country where the first hard frost is imminent. I have a friend who has, over the years, periodically sacrificed her kitchen, her living space and quite possibly her sanity to the ritual of canning and preserving jars of fruit and vegetable goodness during the course of the summer and early into the fall to keep up with the bounty that she collected from berry bushes, the local farm stand and her own apple tree.ball_jars.jpg

This year, she put up brandy and rum peaches (she didn’t label the jars – her feeling was “booze is booze”), ginger peach jam, many iterations of blueberry jam (blueberry verbena, blueberry and peach with a little Alsatian wine thrown in, blueberry basil, blueberry cinnamon – the list goes on and on), tomato jam, and “smoky” tomato BBQ sauce that was the result of an unwatched pot.

My friend’s sudden productivity in the canning arena came as a surprise, since her urge to preserve had gone mostly dormant some twenty years ago. As a young buyer I remember asking her if she would consider starting her own business and seriously produce jams, jellies, and canned vegetables under a gourmet brand. She looked at me like I had two heads.

“Are you serious? “ she asked. “How can anyone make money doing that?”

Well, Friend, the success of many small companies that specialize in shelf-stable jarred gourmet products has proven that there is a demand for jams, preserves, condiments and pickled vegetables; and the rise of more and more local, start-up businesses suggests that consumer demand keeps on growing. I know of a company that supplies pickled vegetables of every sort: dilly beans, asparagus, carrots, peas, and more. Sticking one of each of these canned veggies in a Bloody Mary makes my day. Then there are the fruit preserves. Dozens of startups are producing some of the best and most delicious jams I have tasted in a long time.

Savvy retailers like Whole Foods Market work with local producers of jarred products to offer customers a little “local color.” It really does my heart good to see the little companies on-shelf. It takes me back a few decades when I worked with the startups and saw them expand to large companies with a substantial presence in the grocery aisle. I still work with startups, and still get a thrill to see small companies turn into larger enterprises.

I asked my friend how much a jar of her half pint of jam would cost if she were to again consider selling the fruits of her labors. She rolled her eyes. I took that to mean that there’s a reason some of these products have a higher price tag than the big national brands. The attention to quality, production time and preparation come at a higher price.

I guess that explains why there are canners, and then there are buyers of canned products.

[Photo credit: Amie Fedora]

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