Thursday, August 29, 2013

Becoming a Master Food Preserver

After being ever-so-lucky to be accepted into UMaine Cooperative Extension's Master Food Preserver course, I've been attending classes a couple of nights a month in Gorham.  It is an extremely quick commute for me, with some folks traveling upwards of 3 hours to be there.  It has been SO FUN so far, and I am learning so much.  Every time (for real, every time) I leave the class I call Joe to tell him about my night.  Meanwhile, he's doing his best to smoothly transition the girls from the living room through the tumultuous teeth-brushing inconvenience, and then on to their beds without a war, and I'm going on about canning beans or eating fabulous chutney.  He is amazing as always.

Anyway, one of the things about the class is the incredible fate that is the fact that there are so many other people who obsess about canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, and generally preserving food as much and even more than me.  Who knew?  Did I mention how much I am learning?  Despite making jam and pickles (peanut butter too, of course) at least 40 hours per week during the summer, I have been humbled by the new information I've learned.  There are opportunities every week in class to be a part of some new preserving experience, from making quick freezer jam, to drying herbs, making flavored vinegars, freezing fruits and veggies, canning a variety of pickles, making sour kraut (fact:  Never tried it 'till now), and talking about it all the entire time.  It is wonderful.

Having been an educator for a dozen or so years, I'm fully aware that my own learning style is to "say back" what has been read or said to me for learning.  This can be extremely frustrating and annoying to a traditional teacher who wants to lecture and move on.  But in this totally hands-on class, I'm reading, asking questions, actually experiencing the lesson with my hands, and talking about it the whole time.  It is the perfect way to learn.  I can't wait to share what I've learned with everyone I know.

As the class is about half way through, I thought I'd give you a glimpse into what we've been up to so far.  Sorry I didn't get photos of strawberry jam/jelly night.  The low-sugar jelly was my favorite by far.  So delicious!  So really, this is just a bitty glimpse, and probably not totally in the right order.  I'm not too fancy when it comes to the blogging.  Here's some of the recent scoop in photos:

Our class, minus Lauren.  We'll catch up with her next time!
Prepping sage for its vinegar.

Herbal Jelly in the making.
It's a very serious moment of pondering pesto and dried herbs.
Blueberry Freezer Jam.
Prepping the peaches for freezing.
Perfect peaches.
The Most Beautiful Peaches!
Beans over Peaches.
I'm not gonna lie:  I'm pretty sure I ate most of this jar of dilly beans one of our groups made in class.
Canning beans.
Not exactly watching water boil, we have to keep an eye on the feisty pressure canner.

Just needs corn, then Corn Relish.  Mmmm.
Corn prep for relish.
Heidi was a trooper when it came to mashing the cabbage for kraut.

Everyone gets a chance to mash the cabbage!
It's pretty amazing that this results from simply "bruising" cabbage in preparation for fermenting.

Removing the blossom end helps pickles stay crisper.

The pickle line.

Quick sour pickles.
Out of the water bath and sealing.
Our first independent project included these terrific rye crackers...
blackberry jam, homemade cream cheese...
Wait for it... Pickle Leather!  Very odd, but not bad. 
Dehydrated spaghetti dinner.  Smart and yummy meal for the local boy scout troops to take camping.