August 1, 2008

This year, high food and fuel prices and food quality scares have led to an increased interest in home gardening and purchasing locally produced foods. While many Kentuckians are enjoying the fresh tastes of summer now, they would like to do so all year.

Sandra Bastin, food and nutrition specialist with University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, said these factors have led to a renewed interest in canning.

Canning has been around for about 170 years. In the past, it was a summertime staple, but interest slacked off in recent years due to the convenience and increasing year-round availability of fresh produce at grocery stores. Canning became more of an art form individuals used as gifts, but recently a renewed interest has been building.

"In the past five years, research has shown people are getting back to the kitchen and taking control of their diets," Bastin said.

Renata Farmer and Annie Kingston, family and consumer sciences extension agents from Knox and Livingston counties, respectively, said they've received more calls and questions about canning this year and noticed an increase in home gardening. Both have held food preservation workshops in their counties to meet the demand for more information.

"When I came here five years ago, I would get a lot of questions on canning. It had slacked off, but it's big again this year," Farmer said.

Kingston said she noticed an increased interest in canning beginning last year when she traveled around western Kentucky and taught canning skills.

The renewed interest is coming from a variety of people who want to learn the craft for many different reasons, Bastin said. Many younger people are shopping locally. Baby boomers want to share with their children and grandchildren the childhood experiences of eating fresh produce and watching their mothers or grandmothers can. Some people prefer the taste of home canned food to store bought food.

Since many people may be canning for the first time this summer, it is important to know how to properly and safely preserve foods. Improper canning can lead to a variety of issues, including food-borne illness. Individuals should use recipes that are U.S. Department of Agriculture approved, and they should use proper canning equipment. Canners may use the boiling water method for highly acidic foods. Adding vinegar or lemon juice in the proper proportions lowers the pH to 4.6 or below, which preventsĀ Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism illness, from growing. However, people should use a steam pressure canner for low acid foods, including all vegetables. Pressure canners can reach 240 degrees Fahrenheit, which will kill the bacteria. The boiling water bath can't get any higher than 212 degrees, which is why experts don't recommend oven or open kettle canning.

The UK Cooperative Extension Service has offered several classes this year to help educate individuals on canning basics. Bastin offered food preservation boot camps in the west, central and east regions of the state. The camps for western and eastern Kentucky have already occurred, but the central camp is scheduled for Aug. 5 at the Mercer County extension office. Call 859-734-4378 to register. She said she plans to offer more camps, including one each in north, west and central areas of Kentucky next year. Many county extension offices are offering food preservation and canning workshops this summer. Those interested in canning should check with their local extension office for times and availability of programs near them.

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