These pickles, dill and bread-and-butter, were made at home from cucumbers and dill purchased at the Farmers’ Market.                                    RoundTable photo

For many people, preserving foods at home means refrigerating, freezing and remembering to eat it before it is too late.

However, the few who have decided home canning is the way to go can look to the Evanston’s Farmers’ Market.

Starting in June, a grant from Jarden Home Brands, maker of Ball mason jars, combined with the efforts of the Farmers’ Market Coalition, provided supplies for  teaching about home canning using Ball products. Thirty grants were awarded across the United States, two of them in Illinois.

“Once we got [the grant], then I figured out what it was they wanted us to do,” said Market Manager Myra Gorman, “They wanted us to hold classes and do demos using their products, so we just jumped in. I could have hired somebody, but I really felt that canning needed to be demystified.”

Twice a month during June, July and August, Ms. Gorman gave canning demonstrations at the Farmers’ Market, using utensils, pans and various fruits and vegetables to show how to prepare canned foods over a hot stove.

At the Aug. 17 demonstration, around 20 adults and children sat at small tables adjacent to the Farmers’ Market, listening intently to Ms. Gorman’s demonstration of home canning while examining the free samples of fruit pectin and pickling spices available at a nearby table.

Ball also provided pamphlets on canning practices, advice and coupons toward jars and other supplies useful for home canning. As the demonstration went on, Ms. Gorman commented on her experience canning for the first time. “No one in my family has gotten sick,” she joked. “Everybody loves them.”

Ms. Gorman’s tutorial focused on how easy canning can be, demonstrating how samples of instant pectin could be used to make fruit jams without any stovetop cooking.

Chocolate raspberry sauce made with local fruit and chocolate powder from The Spice House on Central Street seemed to be the highlight of the event.

“If I can’t mess it up, you can’t mess it up,” Ms. Gorman reassured the crowd, reinforcing the fact that healthy, seasonal foods can be safely stored for later in
the year.

“I just wanted to show people how easy it is. I learned to do the chocolate sauce last night. That’s how I’ve done every class. I read the directions, and I do exactly what it says, and it comes out perfect every time. I’m just trying to show people a snapshot of what it takes to make this,” Ms. Gorman said.

The age diversity of those attending the demonstration was a major reason that Jarden Home Brands made the events possible.

“So many people think about their grandparents when they used to do it,” said Ms. Gorman about the stigma associated with home canning. “They’re trying to get a whole new generation to start canning.”

Once the demonstrations were complete, Ms. Gorman handed out bags of supplies to a few people whose names were drawn from a bowl on the table.

Many others also grabbed a few more samples of seasonings used in the demonstrations. Evanstonian Larita Logan, who attended the canning demonstration, said she comes to the Farmers’ Market regularly.

“I’ve been interested in canning so I can preserve what I get to bring those flavors to the fall and winter,” she said. “I didn’t realize it’s become such an easy process. I’m going to try it this weekend.”

All of the produce used in the demonstrations came from farmers at the market. The pickles made by Ms. Gorman three weeks earlier and passed out in the audience during the presentation came from a stand just behind the demonstration table.

Ms. Gorman stressed not just the relevance of canning, but the advantages of using local, in-season produce from places like the Farmers’ Market.

Ms. Gorman said, “It benefits everyone. It benefits the customers because they’re buying fresh. It helps the farmers because people are going to buy more of their fresh produce when it’s in season. When you can it, you continue to keep it all year long.”