Author: Lauren Kraemer, MPH, Assistant Professor, Extension Family and Community Health
Publish Date: Summer 2016
When I was hired as the Hood River and Wasco County Family and Community Health Faculty, one of the projects I took on was reinvigorating our local food preservation program. I had inherited a handful of dedicated Master Food Preservers, but their numbers were dwindling. In addition, many community members seemed more interested in picking and choosing a few classes, rather than becoming a full-fledged volunteer with
40 hours of training and the accompanying 48 pay-back hours. My first year on the job, I offered Dehydrating, Fruit Butters, and Canning Soups in a series I called “A la Carte Food Preservation Classes,” paying homage to the pick-and-choose concept I was hoping to develop. They were well attended and folks wanted more. The following year, being the over-zealous individual that I am and having just completed my training to start offering more food preservation classes, I offered 40 different a la carte classes in Hood River and The Dalles. That was way too many and by fall I didn’t want to see another case of canning jars for months.
Since then I’ve settled on a more manageable set of about 16-20 a la carte classes per year along with an annual Master Food Preserver training. I’ve also fostered some really strong connections with local growers as our program has increased its following. Because the a la carte classes happen during the growing season, it is a great fit to source local produce for the hands-on preserving that happens in each class.
I’ve juggled the timing of the classes each year to try to coincide the topic with what will be in season. This year we started with Dehydrating in June because so many things can be dried and it’s fairly timeless. I also like to make the connection that dehydrating can prepare you for all your outdoor summer adventures. This year we dried local cherries, basil, and canned salsa and spaghetti sauce from last year’s classes for backpacking meals. Next up is Jams and Jellies which will utilize local strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries from valley growers. In July we’ll offer Pickling and Fermenting using locally grown green beans and cabbage to highlight how to acidify various vegetables and make sauerkraut. We’ll teach Pressure Canning and Tomato preserving in August, just in time for the vegetable bounty. That time of year, local produce abounds at the farmer’s market and I can easily shop for classes at any of the local Gorge markets or work with farmers to buy in bulk. They are all too happy to find a home for all their tomatoes that time of year. I finish the season with Freezing, to remind folks that it can serve as your “preserving purgatory” until you have time and interest in the fall and winter to get back in your kitchen in front of the hot stove.
One of the highlights of working with local farmers is that we can source the freshest and best tasting produce. It can sometimes feel easier to shop at Cash and Carry or Costco for these bulk produce purchases—but I never know when things have been picked or for how long they’ve been stored. One of the key tenets of safe and quality preserving is to choose the freshest, soundest, just-ripe produce. Most big- or giant-box stores sell produce designed to ship-well—not preserve well. Many products taste best when
preserved within 24 hours of harvest—that’s essentially impossible if I am sourcing grocery-store produce. A secondary benefit of sourcing local is that students see how glorious and delicious the local produce looks and tastes and they want to know where we got it. It feels great to make the connection back to local growers and keep more money in our local economy and food system. It’s taken a few years to build these
relationships and I had to start small. Now we have contracts through our local Extension Office with about 10 different farms so I can call them up and place an order for produce the following week. They pick it the morning of class and sometimes deliver right to the kitchen. Now that’s fresh. And the proof is in the pickles.