A couple days ago Katie invited me to go canning with the Hamilton ladies – Mrs. Pam, Courtney, and Kaylee – and, with a vision of the four of us in a small kitchen preserving fresh vegetables like my grandmother did, I readily accepted. I would be helping preserve not only veggies but the long-lost art of canning… or so I thought.
Arriving at the canning plant I was shocked. Every parking space was full. Colquitt County has the only canning plant for miles and it was jumping. There were women stirring vats of spaghetti sauce, mothers picking through peas, even a few people I knew from home screwing the lids on jars of fresh salsa. This “lost art” was being practiced by dozens of people on a daily basis, including some children! We claimed our spot among the crowd and unloaded the car. Boxes of tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños, bags of fresh cilantro and garlic, and bottles of lemon and lime juice found their way to the table and we began.
After the shock of the sheer number of people in the building, what really struck me was the camaraderie between the canners. They shared the same equipment, bustled around the room taking taste-test spoons to their neighbors to hear their expert opinions, and talked while they stirred their vats of spaghetti sauce and tomato juice. Luckily, Katie had plenty of experience canning and was able to navigate me through the maze of the plant and the process of canning. Once we got everything cleaned, steamed, peeled, and chopped we started loading up the food processor and gained two new excited assistants: Mason and Lily Bass. Spending part of their summer at the plant with their ag-teacher father, Mason helped stir the vat while Lily filled and ran the food processor with Kaylee’s help.
After a few taste tests, a debate on the amount of kick needed, and a few minutes of cooking, the salsa and resulting tomato juice were ready to be canned. We filled jars and cans and sent them on to be heated and pressure-cooked. The next morning the 58 cans of fresh salsa Mrs. Pam, Kaylee, Courtney, Katie, our two new assistants, and I had made were ready to be given away to Southern Valley employees and other people in the community.
Needless to say canning was nothing like I imagined. It was way more fun! I’m so glad canning is not the “lost art” I imagined it to be, that there are still people out there who care about where their food comes from and carry on the tradition – even when it’s easier to buy a jar of spaghetti sauce in the store. If you’ve never canned, give it a shot. Involve your kids for some great family time and some great veggies all year long! You can start small with only a few cans at home in a waterbath canner, and when you’re ready, move on to the canning plant.
Below are more photos and we also have a Pinterest page where you can find an easy salsa recipe that’s ready for at-home canning and a few tips for first-time canners like myself. Happy canning!