Canning Camp

Canning jars web
My neighbor Mary Kay Hoffman likes to organize a “canning camp” in the late summer for her children and grandchildren. Putting food by with her offspring helps her manage the output of her vast garden and store food for the coming winter. It also enables her to pass along useful skills.
A few years ago it seemed as though the art of home food preservation was dying. With most fruits and vegetables available year round in grocery stores (albeit not in super-fresh form) not everyone saw the need to can, freeze, dry, or prepare a root cellar at this time of year. As a result, fewer and fewer people had the basic skills needed to put food by.
Now two factors are reversing this trend. First, Americans’ increasing interest in living sustainably makes growing (or locally buying) one’s own food more appealing. This is particularly true here in New England. In Florida, Texas, or California local produce is available year round. Here we know the snow drifts will cover gardens and farms within a few months.
Second, the poor economy has helped drive up the sales of canning jars and other home-preserving paraphernalia. Since labor is donated home preserved food is often more affordable than its store-bought competition. It is also given a boost by the fact that one knows exactly what ingredients went into it–and that it is generally made with love.
Not everyone knows how to put food by, of course, even in the country where I live. One organization here in the hilltowns of western Massachusetts recently took it upon itself to help local cooks gain preserving skills by running a public canning camp.
Share the Warmth is an Ashfield group that grew out of last year’s oil crisis. Through it town residents have helped their neighbors stay warm in a number of ways. They have aided individuals in performing basic home weatherization. Last year members rounded up winter coats for those who needed them–and organized a shelter during the ice storm that devastated much of New England in December.
Share the Warmth has also created a woodpile for people who run out of wood, and its members are planning a community garden for next year. Its most recent project was led by Mary Link, a notable canner. Mary has now organized two canning workshops to help her neighbors share summer’s sunshine all year round.
She taught neighbors to make strawberry jam in early July. Her second canning camp, which helped participants put up dilly beans, took place in early September.
Dilly bean ingredients await canning. Dilly bean ingredients await canning.
Mary Link has many skills in addition to canning. She works as an administrator in the Greenfield school system and also teaches textile arts in the high school there. “I’m involved with the Ashfield Community Theater, I sing in Greenfield Harmony, I keep track of my wonderful 13-year-old daughter, and I swim across the lake,” she told me.
Clearly, canning is an important part of that busy life. I watched Mary set up for the dilly-bean workshop and was impressed with her cheerfulness and competent demeanor. When it was over I asked her how she felt about both workshops.
She replied happily that she had run into a number of participants from the first workshop who boasted of their newfound success in home canning. “It’s one of those things you feel more comfortable about if you see it done than reading about it in a book,” she explained. She hopes the program will expand next year.
Meanwhile, she has shared her recipe with my readers. Mary went into great detail about the process of sterilizing and processing jars. For that information, I refer readers to a couple of great web sites. The United States Department of Agriculture offers a PDF version of its home-canning guide. The University of Georgia also offers helpful facts and publications for the home canner.
Happy canning………
Mary Link gets ready to make dilly beans.

Mary Link gets ready to make dilly beans.

Mary’s Dilly Beans
Mary Link is the expert here so I’m simply reprinting the recipe she handed to participants at her workshop (and very kindly shared with me).
The “I” here is therefore not Tinky but Mary. I appreciate her thoroughness in including equipment as well as ingredients in her list of necessities for canning.
I made a batch of these myself, and I can’t wait to try them in a few weeks!
for the brine:
6 cups water
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1/6 cup non-iodized salt (Morton’s calls it plain; pickling or Kosher salt may also be used)
for the beans:
2 to 3 pounds fresh string beans
1 full bunch dill (or more–I like the leaves best, but umbels in flower or seed can be used, too)
2 to 3 heads garlic (I put in about 2 to 3 cloves garlic per jar, depending on how big the cloves are. If you love garlic, you may want to put in more. The pickled cloves are delicious.)
1 cup mustard seeds
slices of hot pepper or other vegetable (optional)
Materials and Equipment:
7 to 8 pint canning jars and lids (I use the wide mouth–easier to get beans into and out of). They come with lids if you buy them new. A canner can hold 7 jars.
paper towels or dishtowels for setting the sterilized jars on; a cookie sheet may also be helpful
a canner for sterilizing the jars and canning bath
1 6-to-8-quart pot (stainless steel or enamel–not aluminum) for cooking the brine
a colander to wash the beans
bowls, cutting board, and knives for de-stemming the beans and skinning and cutting the garlic
long-handled spoon to stir brine
canning-jar tongs
Sterilize the jars. While they are boiling, mix and start heating the brine ingredients in their pot. Do not boil for long to avoid water loss.
Prepare the beans. (You can do this while you’re sterilizing the jars!) Wash the beans, and cut off the stem ends. Cut them to a length that leaves about a 3/4-inch space above them in the jar when standing on end. Save the shorter beans and pieces to fill in with at the end. (If you are entering them into a fair, you will want to cut them all perfectly evenly and pack the jars so they all line up and look perfect.)
Prepare the garlic (also while waiting for the water to boil, or you can do it ahead). Remove the skins from 14 to 20 cloves of garlic. Cut the cloves in half or in three so you have big chunks.
Prepare the dill. Rinse and separate the dill sprigs, remove any bad bits.
Pack the jars. Once the jars are sterilized, first pour mustard seeds in so that they barely cover the bottom of the jar (there will be more on the sides and less or none in the center as it is higher). Then throw in about 4 to 5 pieces of the garlic; then a sprig or two of the fresh dill (dividing the total among the 7 jars).
Add any other vegetables you are using. Then start filling the jar with the beans. It helps to tilt the jar to the side.
Pack the beans in as tightly as you can easily, using the longer beans first and filling in the spaces at the top with shorter pieces at the end. I like to add another sprig of dill on the top at the end, pressed down into the beans so that it will get covered by the brine. Pack all the jars before adding the brine.
Pour boiling brine over the beans in the jars. I use a measuring cup to make the pouring easy. Fill to about 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. Leaving the air space at the top is necessary for the canning process.
Cover the jars with the two-piece jar lids as you go along. Screw the bands tightly (finger tight). Place the jars on the elevated rack in the canner. Lower the rack into the canner. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if needed.
Cover the pot. Bring the water just to a boil. This will take a while because the raw beans will have reduced the temperature of the boiled brine. Once the water boils, turn it off. You do not want the beans to cook. Remove the jars from the hot water and place them upright on a towel to cool completely.
As the jars cool the lids should make a satisfying “pop” sound, indicating that they have sealed. When sealed, the “button” in the middle of the lid should be indented. After the jars cool you can check the seals by pressing the middle of the lids with a finger. (If the lid springs back, it is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
It is best to let the jars stand at room temperature 24 hours before moving them.
Then –this is the hardest part–you need to let the beans pickle for about 6 weeks before eating. I put a note on my calendar and by the beans to remind me when they will be ready. Store unopened jars in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate opened jars– if there are any beans left once you open them. In my house they get gobbled up fast!
Joanne Ostrowski and Sue Craft at the dilly-bean workshop (courtesy of Mary Link)

Joanne Ostrowski and Sue Craft at the dilly-bean workshop (courtesy of Mary Link)

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4 Responses to “Canning Camp”

  1. David Locke says:

    I’ll make sure my younger brother sees this. If you stand between him and the dilly bean jar…nah; I really don’t wanna go there…

    I like ’em as well. Thanks for sharing!”

  2. Robin says:

    I just put up a batch of pepper jelly (from a recipe I found on your website!!) last week. I had never made any before it was an interesting process. I have canned my grandma’s mincemeat and apple butter many times so I am familiar with the canning process. It always remind me of her. Tomorrow I move on to pickle relish with the late peppers from my garden. Again I have never made pickle relish before but you have to start somewhere. Plus I want my daughter to have the lost skills of canning.

    Love your website!!


  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    Good for you passing this knowledge on to your daughter, Robin! I know she will appreciate it in years to come. And thanks for coming into MY grandmother’s kitchen……..

    By the way, if readers would like to see Robin’s blog (which has a little bit of everything on it!) it’s

  4. Donna says:

    Growing up, every other summer we would visit the relatives in Connecticut and Michigan. My Aunt June in Michigan would can and I remember helping her make HUGE batches of the most delicious bread and butter pickles.

    As with last year, the economy is what it is, the cost of living has not decreased in any fashion and I thought 2010 would be the year to learn a new skill and make Xmas gifts at the same time.

    How I wish I could attend the 2010 edition of the canning workshop. I just ordered a basic Ball canning kit including the pot, rack, tools cookbook and some jars. Podcasting for Dummies did not steer me wrong, so I am also consulting Canning for Dummies.

    Strawberries are plentiful and inexpensive this spring and I thought I’d do my first batch of home canned strawberry jam. I’ve also got my eye on your recipe for pepper jelly. I’ll report back and will offer, in advance, to send a jar or two for sampling if you like.

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