Canning at Remick Farm with Cara Sutherland
By Sarah Wright
Photos courtesy Remick Museum
The process of preserving foods in cans or jars, usually sterilized by a heat treatment, began in the late 18th century. In 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a reward for whoever could develop a safe way to preserve food for his army as they traveled. A man named Nicholas Appert took on the challenge, but struggled for 15 years until he came up with a method that involved heat-processing food in glass jars reinforced with wire, and sealing them with wax. By 1810, Englishman Peter Durand had introduced a method for sealing food in tin cans. Later, in 1912, canning really took off in the United States when Thomas Kensett opened the first commercial canning establishment. Of course, no one really knew why canning worked to preserve food until almost a century later, when scientist Louis Pasteur was able to demonstrate how the growth of microorganisms causes food to spoil.
Back then, canning was done in order to survive through wartimes and harsh winters—today, it’s a different story. Cara Sutherland, who teaches canning workshops at the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in Tamworth, explains that people are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in their food. Just look at any food label at the store and you’ll see a long list of additives and chemical preservatives. Why not can your own foods with simple, natural ingredients?
“Many people also can their own food to have something unique; a product they can’t find in stores,” says Cara. “Of course, there’s also the satisfaction of making food yourself.”
This is probably why Cara’s canning workshops at the Remick Museum are so popular. Workshops are held in Remick’s commercial kitchen, and all materials are provided. However, with a class size of just four to eight people, they fill up fast! You’ll definitely want to register in advance for her next workshop scheduled for 1 pm on September 8.
Cara has been canning for years, and like most canners in New Hampshire, she starts in July when fruits and vegetables ripen. It’s important to preserve any garden surplus before the growing season is over, so it doesn’t go to waste. To keep up with every recipe she likes to make, Cara also freezes some produce in the summertime to can later in the winter. However, like other canners, she does most of her canning from summer through October.
I asked Cara what kinds of recipes she uses, and there are many. Her favorite is a chipotle raspberry jam, and she also cans a delicious rhubarb chutney that goes great with grilled chicken. She makes a tasty zucchini relish every year, along with a salsa verde that contains tomatillos, hot peppers, and onions. Every Christmas, Cara’s friends and family expect a jar of jam from her, so that is a part of her regular canning schedule as well. In the wintertime, she likes to make marmalades with Meyer lemons and blood oranges. Cara feels it’s important not to waste a bit of food, so she’ll use the lemon rinds to make an Italian liquor called limoncello and squeeze the lemon juice for strawberry lemonade. Any leftover lemon can still be salted and preserved, or steeped with vinegar to be used as a cleaning solution.
In her workshops at the Remick Museum, Cara sticks with easier recipes like dilly beans, or blueberry and raspberry jam. Something like marinara sauce may sound tempting to make, but Cara says it’s more labor intensive than people realize; she only makes it every other year.
Cara led a two-day workshop for kids this past July, and they made simple recipes for blueberry jam, along with candy apple jelly made with apple juice and cinnamon red hots, and a chocolate cherry jam.
If you’re just starting out, there are some canning recipes in the Remick cookbook, and also many recipes online. Cara suggests using a reputable website for recipes, like www.freshpreserving.com/recipes or www.foodinjars.com.
Although it’s called “canning,” people generally use mason jars, which are typically sold in flats with 12 jars per flat. Canning jar design has come a long way. In 1858, John Mason first invented a glass container with a screw-on thread molded into its top, and a lid with a rubber seal. Wire-clamped jars, such as Lightning and Atlas jars were in use from the late 19th century until 1964, but the modern, two-piece design was developed in 1915, when Alexander Kerr came up with a metal disk with a gasket, held in place by a threaded metal ring.
No matter what the design, Cara stresses that cleanliness is of the utmost importance when canning, as the heat from processing is necessary to kill germs. There is a botulism risk with home canning, which was definitely more prevalent in our past, but can still happen today. It’s important to follow canning instructions carefully, and there are websites that can help, like https://nchfp.uga.edu/ or you can search up “canning basics” at https://extension.psu.edu/.
Most canned foods should be good for at least a year to 18 months. Over a longer period of time, the canned food might lose its color or flavor vibrancy. “Another thing people should keep in mind is that vegetables have changed over the years—for instance, the Ph might be different today,” says Cara. “Old family recipes might not work the same way as they once did.”
Although Cara has been canning for a long time, she’s still interested in learning more about this delicious hobby. “I’m hoping to learn how to use pressure can equipment. It’s safer than it was 40 years ago,” she explains. “I also want to start making my own soups.”
Taking one of Cara’s workshops will definitely get you on the road to safely canning your own produce, which can be a nutritious part of a healthy lifestyle. Call the Remick Museum at 603-323-7591 to register for the next canning workshop on September 8 at 1 pm. There are many other activities and events at the Remick Museum. Check their calendar at www.remickmuseum.org for more details.
The Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm is located at 58 Cleveland Hill Road in Tamworth Village. They are currently open from 10 am to 4 pm, Monday through Saturday. Whether you are new to canning or just want to learn a few new recipes, Cara would love to meet you at her next workshop!