Tight budgets, food safety, tradition among students motivations

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The food preservation classes at the Forest Grove UCC start with a lecture and conclude with hands-on canning demonstrations. Kaely Summers of Adelante Mujeres helped out. Norma Aguilar wants a taste of summer in the middle of winter. Amy Tucker wants to save money. Brenda Jones wants to keep her mother’s traditions alive.

A variety of motivations brought people to Forest Grove Monday, Sept. 9, for the first of three food-preservation classes offered by Oregon State University’s Washington County Extension Service and Dairy Creek Community Food Web.

In this first class, students got their hands dirty making jams and jellies.

About 20 people milled around the Forest Grove United Church of Christ kitchen amid boiling canners and clinking jars. Students read directions and looked on as instructors peeled, zested and sliced.

A decade ago this wouldn’t have happened, said Extension spokeswoman Jeanne Brandt. Local residents had little interest in food preservation, so OSU didn’t bother offering such classes.

But this bustling class is the result of a resurgent interest in eating locally, along with a concern about store-bought products’ ingredients and potential contaminants. “There’s a big group of young people very interested in controlling the contents of their food and preserving food they’ve grown, and who are new to the local, sustainable food movement,” Brandt said. “Many didn’t grow up in households that preserved their own food, but maybe [they] had grandparents who did.”

Students included veteran canners refreshing their skills, gardeners overrun with ripe produce, those on a budget hoping to spend less at the store, couples trying something new together and entrepreneurs hoping to sell products at markets.

Laura Loucaides of Forest Grove wanted to explore something she’s always been curious about.

Vickie Axtell of Beaverton has been canning for 30 years, but was looking for up-to-date information so she can preserve safely.

“I love the sound of those jars popping when they seal,” said Axtell, who picked up new recipes and jar-sterilization information at the class. Plus, she said, “in the wintertime, you can go to your pantry and get a jar and know it doesn’t have all those preservatives in it.”

Aguilar has developed doubts about the Internet as an information source and felt the classes might be more reliable.

Acidity levels and cooking times are essential to preserving safely, said Brandt, who recommends using recipes from a trusted source, such as OSU, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the United States Department of Agriculture or the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Tucker, of Gaston, preserves what she grows in the summer so she can enjoy it all year. While she enjoys the canning process — using both water-bath and pressure canners — she also makes the effort because it saves her money, which she notices “especially in the off-season when certain things aren’t available.”

Although the process requires an initial investment in jars, lids and canners, it usually pays off in the end, Brandt said. Jars, screw caps and canners don’t wear out easily, and secondhand gear is even cheaper, if available. Lids are often the only part preservers need to continually purchase.

Classes also spark efforts at networking, Brandt said. Participants can borrow and share equipment, can together and exchange produce — from berries growing wild, to backyard fruit trees bursting with enough to share with neighbors, to gardens overrun with zucchini.

“In this area,” Brandt said, “there’s such a lot of produce around.”

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