Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pump Up The Jam: Canning & Preserving With Perth County Kitchens

The only problem with local produce is... it's here, and then it's gone.

A mere two weeks ago, the Slow Food Sunday Market vendors Megen's Family Farm were selling truckfuls of beautiful asparagus to line-ups of appreciative consumers. The next week, alas, there wasn't a spear to be found.  

The tragic irony is that when seasonal produce like asparagus and strawberries shows up there is a tonne of it, but there is only so much you can eat!
Every summer, it's the same thing for me... one day I look up and there is no more asparagus, and a few weeks later there are no more strawberries. And I say to myself, Dang, I really should've preserved some. I could've enjoyed it all year round. This week, thanks to Perth County Kitchens, I did just that!

Perth County Kitchens is a fantastic initiative by my sister-in-food Laurie Knechtel (above right), who sources-out certified kitchen spaces in our county for two purposes: to connect people who want to process food for commercial purposes with Health Unit approved facilities, and to hold community cooking workshops for the young and old to learn new skills and revive lost arts. Previous sessions have included fun pizza-making workshops for kids, and artisanal breadmaking class for ambitious do-it-youselfers. All the classes are different, but the one thing they have in common is that they use local product and all participants learn about where the ingredients were sourced. This week's class was about pickling asparagus and making jars of strawberry preserves - all sourced from the aforementioned Megen's Family farm - and was led by home kitchen talent Bev Rock (above on left).
I first heard about Bev Rock from the reporting of Maureen Argon, another sister-in-food who is also a sister-in-blog (see her two pieces on preserving with Bev here and here). Bev attributes her talents as a canner and preserver to her family upbringing, "A lot of the methods I use I learned from my mother and grandmother." She even brought along her grandmother's handwritten notebook with all of her secret family recipes (I snuck a peek, above).

The class was sold out, which made it easy for us to break into three groups and pump out three different types of strawberry jams: plain strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, and gooseberry strawberry (the rhubarb and gooseberries both came straight from Bev's garden!).

In between the strawberry and asparagus sessions we all took a break and enjoyed some jam on fresh baked bread Laurie had picked up from the newly-opened Your Local Market Co-op.

Laurie sourced out what had to be some of the last asparagus of the season from the Megens.

Bev showed us how to make pickled asparagus by placing them in a vinegar brine with green garlic from nearby August's Harvest, dill, and mustard seeds.

We made jars of pickled asparagus using the longer spears, as well as a bunch of jars using the smaller pieces that were trimmed off so the spears would fit in.

Everyone went home with three jars of strawberry jam (one of each kind) and three jars of pickled asparagus. 

Besides the learning experience, and the practical benefit of being able to eat this precious seasonal and local food in the middle of winter if I want, the best part of the Perth County Kitchens experience for me was making new friends and spending time with fellow food lovers, working together to create something special. Perth County Kitchens really puts the "community" in "community kitchens", and I look foward to the next opportunity to take part in more of the sessions Laurie will be coordinating in the future. One of the best ways to keep yourself in the loop for upcoming classes is to follow Perth County Kitchens on Facebook.

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