Trend: The Local Canning Movement

Preservationists steam up urban kitchens

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Preservationists steam up urban kitchens

Last year, local publisher Sasquatch Books hired Seattle writer Lorene Edwards Forkner to update chapters of the 1970s book The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery (who died in 2005), for a more modern, urban readership. Forkner let go of chapters on delivering a baby at home and slaughtering livestock, but took on another messy topic seemingly equally lost to the computerized masses: canning. Published last August as Canning and Preserving Your Own Harvest, Forkner’s book is selling briskly, and the author’s schedule is, well, jammed—with canning demos, pickling classes and brining workshops.

Forkner isn’t the only one to notice that Ball jars and cooling racks are hot new home accessories.
“Our sales of canning supplies possibly tripled last summer over previous years,” says Willow Yoder, office manager at Greenwood TrueValue Hardware. And canning classes are bountiful across the city, from the homey Phinney Neighborhood Center to the studios of famous local foodie Kathy Casey.

Surely some of the fever for DIY preservation stems from our region’s Edenic garden bounty. We have rhubarb and strawberries in June, the raspberry-blueberry-blackberry-huckleberry-peach parade of July and August, and the dilated weeks of autumn during which farmers’ markets and backyards keep canners busier—with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other staples—than Charlie Chaplin at a conveyor belt. Rebecca Staffel, who recently left a Microsoft contract job to start the Seattle artisan jam business Deluxe Foods (deluxe-foods.com), says Washington state fruit easily fills her business’s locavore mission. “I could do a lot with just Ballard fruit, frankly!” she says. Staffel reports that she finds bags of Asian pears and Italian plums on her doorstep, left by friends in the neighborhood desperate to unload their own overabundant harvests.

Which raises the question: With the endless domestic chores of our busy lives—from harvesting in the garden to getting dinner ready—what would drive a person to take on a time-consuming new task?

“Maybe it’s the balance to our highly technical lives,” Forkner suggests. “I think preserving on this level is another craft—and my preserves did a lot better than any sweater I’ve ever knit!” Another reason, she says, is that all this chutney stewing and tomato simmering can be a great time to socialize. “In the ’70s, this was part of dropping out, moving to the country and living off the land. Now it’s less about that and more about doing it as a community.”

One group of enthusiastic canners is Canning Across America, a nationwide collective with its roots in Seattle. Last August, members started what they called a “Canvolution,” encouraging home gardeners and cooks to throw canning parties and put up food together while exchanging recipes and tips. The collective includes such local food luminaries as former Seattle

Post-Intelligencer food writer Rebekah Denn and Gluten-Free Girl blogger Shauna James Ahern.
Another local group, Community Kitchens Northwest, invites neighbors to community-center kitchens for canning events. According to Leika Suzumura, a Community Kitchens volunteer, people who wouldn’t necessarily get to know each other outside the kitchen find common ground within it. “You can trade information across cultures, because we all relate to food,” she says. Group canning is also a great way to go for those looking to stretch their food dollars. Buying in bulk saves money, and sharing pots, tongs and other hardware saves on the cost of getting things simmering.

Budget benefits aside, solo canning—often using $