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Home canning is making a comeback. The Wall Street Journal wonders if it's the recession. Some people say it's the local food movement, support your local growers, which requires a little canning. Other people miss the jams and treats they may remember from childhood. There are canning parties on the Web now. Imagine steamy, fragrant kitchens stretching across the country.

(Soundbite of machinery)

INSKEEP: Our own Linda Wertheimer spent a morning learning the basics of home canning from a food blogger known as Mrs. Wheelbarrow.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Cathy Barrow cans because she loves good food.

Ms. CATHY BARROW (Blogger, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen): I guess it was four or five years ago, I started going to farmer's markets five times a week. And I get enamored of the food. I can't help myself. And there are only two of us, but I come home with enough for eight. And so I had to learn to do something with it.

WERTHEIMER: Why not bag it and freeze it? Surely, that's easier.

Ms. BARROW: I have an extra freezer and I have this freezer, but they're always packed.

WERTHEIMER: So canning and Cathy Barrow's way is easy to learn. She started us off with something basic: crushed tomatoes made from very ripe, very big beefsteak tomatoes, chosen for their musky tomato taste.

Ms. BARROW: I want it to be honestly tomato-y. Heirloom tomatoes have that nice variety, where some are really acidic and bright and lemony, and others are sort of rich and chocolaty. But with crushed tomatoes, I just really want it to taste like a tomato.

WERTHEIMER: Don't be intimidated when I tell you 20 pounds of tomatoes are piled up in the biggest bowl in Cathy Barrow's suburban Washington kitchen. She starts by dunking a few tomatoes at a time in boiling water for 30 seconds, then dropping them in a sink full of water and ice cubes. That makes them easy to peel.

Ms. BARROW: And slice an X in the bottom to help loosen the skin. And then I take the core out, and then the skin should just peel right off.

WERTHEIMER: In four great big pieces, it looks like.

Ms. BARROW: In four big pieces.

WERTHEIMER: Then Cathy Barrow gets personal, gets physical with her tomatoes. She takes those big, slippery red globes in two hands and squeezes, losing the juice and the seeds in the skink, saving the pulp.

Ms. BARROW: So there's very little moisture in here after I'm done squeezing.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. We're looking at a big stock pot that's about half-full of mashed-up tomatoes, crushed tomatoes. Now, when you cook them, you're not really going to cook them very much.

Ms. BARROW: No. I'm only going to cook them for five minutes, but it will take a little bit to get it up there. So while I squeeze the rest of the tomatoes, I'll get this started.

WERTHEIMER: Once the tomatoes start really boiling, Cathy Barrow sets a five-minute timer. Would you believe we're almost done?

Ms. BARROW: I want to dispel the notion that it's hard and takes a lot of time to can.

WERTHEIMER: May be not time, but it does take stuff. Fortunately, most of is from the hardware store and not very expensive. You can buy a case of jars, which come with lids that seal - little flat disks with a red ring on the bottom - and rings, the screw-down part.

Cathy Barrow boils the lids and rings in a saucepan to sterilize them, and then fishes them out of the hot water.

Ms. BARROW: My favorite tool of all is the magnetic lifter. It was 99 cents, and it stopped me from burning my fingers. So that was a good move.

WERTHEIMER: To sterilize the jars, she runs them through the dishwasher. She says that does the trick.

Barrow fills those clean jars with hot, crushed tomatoes, leaving half an inch headroom. She puts the lids in place, then screws on the rings.

Ms. BARROW: And I'm just finger tightening the rings, not super tight.

WERTHEIMER: The jars go in to even larger pot submerged in a boiling water bath. They come out 45 minutes later.

Ms. BARROW: There, look at it. Isn't that beautiful?

WERTHEIMER: It is.

Ms. BARROW: Wouldn't you like to pull that out in January?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: For spaghetti sauce or salsa?

Cathy Barrow teaches canning. She blogs about it as Mrs. Wheelbarrow. She collects cookbooks and recipes and lots of equipment. But, she says, you green make green tomato refrigerator pickles with no equipment, just jars. She ordered bright, green cherry tomatoes from a local farmer, and he brought her 12 pounds.

Ms. BARROW: I said, John, I don't need all of these. He said: I can't sell them. You're going to have to take them. So, I'm pickling green cherry tomatoes for the masses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARROW: I don't know who's going to get them all. But if you're on my Christmas list, you'll be getting these.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: She put equal parts vinegar and water on to boil, put a few tablespoons of salt and sugar into each jar, pricked each hard little tomato with a knife and stuffed them into jars with some extra flavoring.

Ms. BARROW: That was yellow mustard seed. And now I'm going to add some coriander seed. And then some black peppercorn.

WERTHEIMER: What is that?

Ms. BARROW: That's the bay leaf...

WERTHEIMER: Bay leaf.

Ms. BARROW: ...that's going into each one. It's a very basic pickling mix.

WERTHEIMER: Also into the jar, a little red chili pepper and a peeled clove of garlic.

Ms. BARROW: I want it to be whole because it's so pretty when it floats like that. I think a lot about what the jars look like when they're done. It's not just what's in them, how good it tastes, but I want them to be really pretty, too.

WERTHEIMER: Cathy Barrow pours the boiling brine into the jars of tomatoes. They cool on the counter, then sit in the refrigerator for a week, and they're done.

The cherry tomatoes turn from little green golf balls into crunchy, spicy snacks.

Learn this recipe, she says, and you can pickle green beans or cauliflower or jalapenos.

Ms. BARROW: I don't think anything could be easier than making a pickle like this.

WERTHEIMER: The most exotic thing we made was French-style fig jam with sliced lemons, spiced with thyme, sweetened with honey. It's Cathy's own invention.

Ms. BARROW: A friend of mine who really hates figs - I mean, hates them - said: My stupid tree is full of fruit. Do you want any? And I was like, yes. And I ran out and picked four pounds, and then stared at them for several hours while I looked to figure out what to make out of them.

WERTHEIMER: She cuts the figs in half, slices the lemons very thin, sweetens it and simmers the jam until it starts to thicken. It sits overnight to develop flavors. Then she boils it up, packs it into jars that go into that boiling water bath. It's really good.

Ms. BARROW: Do you have a fig tree?

WERTHEIMER: No, actually. But the Truitts(ph) next door do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARROW: Perfect. And they go out of town every August, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: It took about three hours to produce jars of crushed tomatoes, refrigerator pickles, beautiful jam. And here's the sound that every home canner loves to hear.

(Soundbite of thunk)

WERTHEIMER: That little thunk tells you the lid is airtight, that a morning of hard work has ended with delicious food safely sealed.

(Soundbite of thunks)

Ms. BARROW: The music of the jars.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah.

INSKEEP: NPR's Linda Wertheimer with home-canner Cathy Barrow. You can go to npr.org for links to Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and the recipes.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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