How To Throw a Canning Party

October 27th 2017

By Michelle O’Connor, Moxie Consulting

As a child, harvesting and canning food was a yearly event that I both looked forward to and dreaded at the same time. I enjoyed the time in my kitchen with my mom, but it was such hot and hard work and all I wanted was to soak in every last drop of summer. Canning season, of course, always starts with the harvest. My mom and dad had big healthy gardens that would overproduce and require a lot of our attention to ensure minimal waste. We canned tomatoes, dilly beans, cucumbers, onion chutneys, zucchini pickles, you name a vegetable and my mom would figure out a way to put it in a jar. Fruit was and still is my favorite. Mom would throw us kids in the cars and drive all over Linn County to pick cherries, strawberries, peaches, blueberries and any other fruit she could find that would go nicely in a jar. Once all of the farms were finished with their growing seasons she would send my brother and I out to the alley by our house to fill up buckets of blackberries. We would come back with purple fingers and bloody arms and were scolded if we ate too many. After all the veggies and fruits were picked and canned we would go to my mom’s friends houses that had walnut trees and gather as many as we could to crack during the winter. I remember going to school after these walnut picking weekends with my hands died black from the walnut casings and seeing a few other kids here and there with the same tell tale sign of what they had done over the weekend. I was relieved to know that my mom wasn’t the only one that forced her children to spend their weekends gathering food and putting it all in jars.

As an adult, I am so thankful for those weekends gathering food and I still enjoy canning. I have a beautiful quince tree in my yard that makes the most gorgeous and delicious quince jelly. I have plenty of blackberries on the property that are divine mixed with bourbon to make a thick seedy jam. When the peaches are ready I mix them with vanilla bean and brandy and in about a month, we just eat them out of the jar. I have found I like freezing tomatoes much better than canning them, but they too get saved up for cold winter days. It is a part of my life, it’s who I am and I’ve come to realize not very many of my friends grew up learning the skill of how to can food.

A few years ago, around harvest time. I was talking with one of my girlfriends about the canning that I was going to do that weekend. She started asking me so many questions and revealed she had never canned anything in her life. I found myself thinking about this quite a lot in the days to come, and came to discover that most of my friends have never canned anything. Mostly, they didn’t know how to do it, were scared to do something wrong and make someone sick, or just never had the opportunity to try it. I realized right then and there that I could change that, and my annual canning party was born.

I typically invite about 12 people to my canning party. There have been years with more guests and some with less but the number 12 seems to be a magic number for the party. Maybe its because there are 12 jars in a case, or because I have 12 chairs for people to sit, or that I have 12 wine glasses, I’m not sure exactly, but 12 people make my guest list every year. I try to ask different people every year and reach out to find people that have never canned before. I ask that everyone bring a case of jars and a case of fruit or veggies and give details based on what we will be making.   The first year I just had everyone bring a case of “something”, but this proved to be far too chaotic and we had way too many things to prep and basically it was just a mess. So now, for example, I may ask 4 people to bring a case of peaches and 4 people to bring a case of blackberries and 4 people will bring a case of green beans and at the end each guest leaves with all of their jars filled with some peach jam, blackberry preserves and dilly beans.

When guests arrive I already have everything set up to sterilize jars and we get started with that. As we are sterilizing jars I explain how the canning process works, what they need to know and show everyone their workstation with cutting boards, knives and bowls so we can start prepping food. Oh, and wine is poured, there is definitely wine! I will measure out the sugar and vinegar and other things necessary for our chosen recipes so that everything ready to go. I try to choose easy and quick recipes because canning can be a long process and I find that some people lose interest in the process when things take too long. Everyone gets to work and before you know it jams are bubbling and brines are boiling, people are laughing and we are canning!

The energy at the canning parties in the house and out on the porch is lively and fun. There is something really special about getting a bunch of people together to work on a group project, especially one that involves food.  Sometimes the guests are people I know, but often they are friends of friends and this is how we are getting to know each other. I love watching my friends come to realize that canning is simple and fun and everyone leaves with jars full of food and an experience that hopefully will encourage them to try it again someday on their own.

In January when the weather is dreary and cold is really my favorite part of the canning party. Opening those cans is always a treat. Once the seal is broken the memories that were made at the canning party come rushing out and make the flavor of the blackberry bourbon jam or peach jam or dilly beans that much sweeter!