The Phelps Of Food Canning Master canner Barbara Schaller preserves everything from tomatoes to "pickled boiled dirt chunks." She explains how this nasty sounding concoction — pickled beets, for the uninitiated — has turned her into one of the greatest champions of the Minnesota State Fair.
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The Phelps Of Food Canning

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The Phelps Of Food Canning

The Phelps Of Food Canning

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Forget gold, silver and bronze. Barbara Schaller is all about the blue, red and white - ribbons that is. She's won more than 200 of them at the Minnesota State Fair over the last quarter century. So many that she calls herself a - what was that, Barb?

Ms. BARBARA SCHALLER (Multiple Ribbon Winner): Well, we call ourselves ribbon sluts.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: And her specialty is canning. Give her a fruit or a vegetable and she'll can the living soul out of it. Barbara Schaller joins me now from St. Paul. She's at the fairgrounds where the festivities just opened this week. Welcome, Queen Barbara.

Ms. SCHALLER: Hi, Jacki.

LYDEN: Do your friends call you that - queen?

Ms. SCHALLER: Oh, that would be fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHALLER: Mother Superior is how my Internet friends refer to me on the food preserving groups that I participate in.

LYDEN: So, how many blue ribbons did you take home this year?

Ms. SCHALLER: This year, I only had four. But, you know what, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

LYDEN: Absolutely. And what were the four blue ribbons for?

Ms. SCHALLER: The blue ribbons were for blackberry jam, blackberry jelly, stewed tomatoes and tomato juice.

LYDEN: That sounds like a pretty good quartet to me.

Ms. SCHALLER: Yeah, I think so too. My biggest coup though, Jacki, was the fact that I won a fourth-place ribbon for my pickled boil dirt chunks. That's what I call pickled beets.

LYDEN: Pickled boiled dirt chunks?


LYDEN: A Minnesota specialty?

Ms. SCHALLER: Well, it's my specialty because I don't eat beets.

LYDEN: So, does that mean you don't take these things that you actually can -the pickled beets?

Ms. SCHALLER: That is exactly what that means. I have entered them three times and I have no idea what they taste like.

LYDEN: So, Queenie, you are so good that you can can things that you don't even taste. I'd like to know your secret, because I've got to tell you, I tried to put up some tomatoes when I was about 21 - we won't say how long ago that was -in some kind of fit of conservation. And when they blew up on the stove, my walls resembled the St. Valentine's Day massacre I'd have to say.

Ms. SCHALLER: Yeah, I - you did something wrong is going to be my guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHALLER: Were you pressure-canning them or were you…

LYDEN: I don't know. I never tried it again.

Ms. SCHALLER: Oh, yeah, yeah.

LYDEN: So, you had four blue ribbons this year. So, how many…


LYDEN: …how many entries did you submit?

Ms. SCHALLER: We can enter - the canners can enter 20 entries, and I do that every year. I max out. This year I had four blue ribbons, no second-place ribbons; I think four third-place ribbons and three fourth-place ribbons.

LYDEN: What do you do with all those ribbons when you get them home?

Ms. SCHALLER: I don't know. They usually kind of sit around and then they get shuffled off someplace.

LYDEN: Maybe you need to consider quilting or something with them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHALLER: Yes. I think that would be cool to have somebody make a pillow for me. But I'm kind of a loser when it comes to a needle and thread.

LYDEN: Barbara Schaller is one of the winningest canners in the history of the Minnesota State Fair - and that's saying a lot. Thanks so much for speaking with us, Barbara.

Ms. SCHALLER: Bye-bye.

(Soundbite of song "Teddy's Jam")

Mr. AARON HALL (Singer): (Singing) Jam, oh jam, jam, Teddy, jam for me, yeah.

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