MARQUETTE - The benefits of preserving food are numerous. Whether it's to enjoy summer's abundance throughout the year, save money, know the ingredients, give as a gift or just because homemade tastes better, opportunities to learn safe food preservation practices are free in Marquette this summer.
The Michigan State University Extension is sponsoring a series of four workshops - free of charge and open to the public - on canning and preserving food in the Marquette Food Co-op's new classroom space, located at 502 W. Washington St.
MSU Extension Educator Beth Waitrovich is teaching the workshops. She said she's been working for the extension for 28 years and canning for more than 30.
A fresh batch of strawberry jam waits to be lidded and boiled in a canning bath at a food preservation class at the Marquette Food Co-op on July 17. For the process to be completed, the jars of jam must then sit untouched for 12 hours in order to gel, sealing individually with a popping sound soon after being removed from the bath. Two more food preservation classes will be offered this summer. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)
From left, Shaun Thunell, Linda Berry and Miranda Badour, all of Marquette, mix sugar into a boiling pot of crushed strawberries. The groups in the class also made a reduced-sugar strawberry jam and blueberry jam, which they were able to take home. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)
"There (are) so many people that want to preserve their own food, and our motive is to help people to learn to do it safely, so that they have a safe product," Waitrovich said.
The first class was an introduction workshop and the second was on fruit preservation. Workshops to follow will be on pressure canning and dehydrating vegetables August 14 and pressure canning fish and meats September 25.
"People want to follow 'my mom used to do this' or 'my grandma used to do this,'" Waitrovich said. "But we have new research that's shown how to safely make these products, and the biggest concern is...vegetables and meat."
When preserving any food - but especially low-acid foods like meats and veggies - failure to follow directions exactly can result in a runny or tough final product, a failed seal, or even botulism, a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by bacteria that can form in canned goods. This is best avoided, Waitrovich said, by being informed, up-to-date and carefully following the recipe.
But the satisfaction and pride in the finished product is her favorite aspect of canning, she said.
"I just love it when you take your jars out of the canner and they start to pop," she said. The popping sound indicates jars are fully sealed and the canner's work is successful. That sound is just the most wonderful sound in the world, if you've put all that time into making something."
Thirteen people plus some extra instructors participated in the fruit preservation class on July 17, which provided instruction and background information about the finicky process of canning jams and jellies, including equipment needed, sanitary preparation and process, storage, and the roles of each of the four basic ingredients - fruit, sugar, pectin and acid. Then, all necessary materials were provided for participants to break into groups and make their own batches of strawberry and blueberry jams, which they could take home at the end of class.
Miranda Badour of Marquette said she had minimal canning experience before the workshop and a fairly urgent reason to learn.
"I have a huge garden," she said. "I have 20 tomato plants, so I need to figure this out."
Shaun Thunell of Marquette said he had the same motivation.
"I just got a garden going this year ... If you're going to put all that work into a garden, you know, you want to have it last, so you can enjoy it," he said.
Laughter, discussion and fruity aromas filled the room once canning commenced. Experience levels varied, but most people came with ample questions about their own experiences, mistakes and concerns.
Linda Berry of Marquette said she attended as a refresher course, since she grew up canning but hadn't done it in a while. She said she appreciated the co-op's new classroom.
"This is nice - look at it," she said, motioning to the large room with brand new kitchen equipment, including three stoves and a refrigerator. "There's so many people and there's room for everybody, everyone in their little area. This is fun."
Co-op Education Coordinator Sarah Monte said when the classroom is completely finished, in time for the first co-op cooking class in September, it will contain a lending library as well as a new projector and sound system for viewing films.
"This (is) a long-time dream coming true right now," Monte said about the new space. "We're just so much more free to do what we want to do, so I'm pretty excited."
A co-op cooking class schedule should be available online (marquettefood.coop/events/cooking-classes) by mid-August, Monte said. Classes will include Ecuadorian, Italian and Indian cuisines, as well as cheese-making and possibly charcuterie, the art of curing meat.
The last two MSU Extension summer food preservation workshops are from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 14 and Sept. 25. There is limited space, so pre-register at least one week in advance by calling the MSU Extension at 475-5731.
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is email@example.com.