Once you start, you just can’t stop

I think I could be newly addicted.

This year, more than ever before, I’ve been focused on local foods and making a conscious effort to buy and consume more of them, especially Ontario fruits and vegetables. Not only are they good for me, but I believe it’s important to support our own, in this case Ontario’s farmers.

But there’s one problem with my carefully practised efforts to buy Ontario: what do you do with the remainder of a two-litre basket of peaches when all you can really eat within a few short days only uses up half the basket?

It’s beyond wasteful to just let them all go into the compost, so the answer to my left-over produce dilemma suddenly became easy: canning, pickling and preserving. At first, it seemed somewhat mysterious and brought back childhood memories of helping my mother preserve peaches and make cherry jam.

But after doing some reading, it didn’t seem all that difficult, so I started off slowly with a small, experimental batch of strawberry jam.

That turned out well. Not only was it tasty, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment with what I had done. As well, I found I really enjoyed the process of working with the fresh fruit and turning it into something delicious I can enjoy all year long.

And so I became hooked and thus began my new-found addiction. Several more batches of jam later, I decided to branch out into vegetables and have now already tried various salsa and tomato sauce recipes. And the harvest is only just getting into high gear.

But as I became more immersed, I also began noticing more media coverage about my newly found hobby, including reports about canning workshops and salsa-making demonstrations. It made me start to wonder – am I at the edge of a larger trend, at the cusp of a burgeoning renaissance of the craft of our mothers and grandmothers?

It seems yes. Nielsen Canada released statistics in July showing that canning accessory sales had increased nearly 70 per cent in May over the same month last year, while June saw the category rise an astonishing 88 per cent compared to the same time the year before.

Ontario food writer and recipe developer Jennifer MacKenzie, author of the bestselling Complete Book of Pickling, tells a similar story. Her cookbook went into its second printing within three months of being released earlier this year and she attributes its success and the growing interest in canning to a variety of factors.

The popularity of the local food movement, as well as the current belt-tightening brought about by the global economic squeeze have helped consumers turn their attention to canning as a way of both being able to enjoy local food all year long and saving a bit of money in the process.

Growing numbers of people are challenged with food allergies and making your own food is one way of being absolutely certain of what is in what you are eating. As well, there’s also the assurance of knowing where that food came from, and what kind of care and attention went into growing it.

And finally, with the act of canning comes a certain sense of nostalgia. It certainly reminds me of my family, my home and my childhood – a happy time when life seemed so much simpler and more carefree than it generally is today.

It would likely be easier for me to just buy a jar of salsa at the grocery store than to go through all the effort of making it myself, but it’s really about so much more than just the salsa. It’s about food, about farming and about family – the fact that it’s also tasty and local is just a bonus.

This article was published in the Guelph Mercury on September 25, 2009.

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