Contra Costa: Preserving summer's bounty by canning
By Janice De Jesus, Correspondent
POSTED: 08/30/2016 03:50:52 PM PDT
MARTINEZ -- Growing up in Livermore, Jennifer Brennan's family had a large garden in their backyard. "My parents canned a lot, so I grew up knowing a bit about preserving," said Brennan, who now lives in Martinez. When she moved near Shasta after high school, she started canning produce from a local ranch and making jams from harvesting wild berries. But moving back to the Bay Area, she became busy with work and didn't have time for canning. Brennan has renewed her interest in preserving and canning in the last seven years after seeing how much of the local produce was going to waste. There was a surplus of fruits and vegetables from gardens -- hers, her friends, and community -- and from picking wild berries.
"I mostly can produce from whatever I get that comes my way," she said. "I never know what I will be preserving or when until the day before. I also do other methods of preserving like fermenting, freezing and drying."
She has taught canning classes -- and takes classes as a refresher to learn others' techniques. "I started teaching others how to can mostly from people asking me to show them," Brennan said. "Since I want to see a community with less focus on money and would like a society that has more giving, trading and bartering, I mostly offer people to come to my home when I am canning or I will go to a group of women when they ask. If I am already canning that day and I know someone who wants to learn, I just invite them over."Canning classes in the Bay Area are upward of $125 or more. The workshop offered by Sustainable Contra Costa at Rodgers Ranch is $20 with a $9 materials fee, Brennan said.
Tyler Snortum-Phelps, Sustainable Contra Costa's program administrator, said, "Jennifer is not only an experienced and fun home canning instructor, she is a committed local food activist who has spent years promoting sustainability and self-sufficiency. Brennan said she's inspired by the "Vilda and Pepe Project," founded by Vilda Figueroa and her husband, José Lama, who share ecological food preservation methods to provide training in using sustainable, natural, low-input food-processing technologies with the goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle based on strong social participation. "In the spirit of Vilda and Pepe, a tireless couple that teaches food preserving throughout Cuba that reach about 15,000 people a year, all for free, I also offer to teach for free," she said. "With that in mind, I also realize we live in an environment that requires us to have a common system of trade which happens to be money at this time and we all need it in our current economy. The question is, how much do we need and how can we do things differently? Perhaps we can give a little more and take a little less? I consider this more than a very good trade for a lifelong skill, with the proceeds going to two very good causes," she said. "I don't think you could ask for more than that. We learn how to preserve the bounty of summer in this basic beginner's class on water bath canning and simple lacto-fermentation. We will share tips and pointers to get you started on home canning with confidence."
She said demonstration of easy methods of fruit jam preparation will take the mystery out of the process. Students will learn beginning fermentation to make their own zucchini pickles and will take a jar of preserves home.
Some of the workshop will be held outside if weather permits, she said. "We know that growing your own food has become much more popular in recent years, and now people are interested in taking the next step to learn how to preserve the bounty of fruits and vegetables from their backyards," Snortum-Phelps said. "The more food we grow and preserve ourselves, the more energy and resource-efficient our local economy becomes. And nothing beats the taste of homegrown."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Home canning and preserving
WHEN: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 13
WHERE: Rodgers Ranch Heritage Center, 315 Cortsen Road, Pleasant Hill
COST: $20 plus $9 materials