ATLANTA -- "I don't want to kill anyone after I give them a jar of something."
That's a fear held by many new to canning and one expressed by Karen Geney, who set aside her concerns after taking canning classes at the Cook's Warehouse. Geney recalls her mother canning vegetables, but the Glenwood Park, Ga., resident never learned food preservation techniques herself until she adopted an 8-by-8-foot plot in her neighborhood's community garden.
"The delight you feel when things start growing quickly turns to horror when you realize what a short shelf life they have," she said.
It's that time of year when our gardens yield summer's bounty that can be enjoyed through winter if properly preserved. Many of us have childhood memories of our mothers and grandmothers investing days into putting up the garden's spoils for the winter. I recall braving the darkness of my grandmother's cellar each Sunday to retrieve jars of vegetable dump soup and pickled peaches.
Yet, few of us learned the art of preservation at our mother's hips. Lyn Deardorff, 40-year canner and canning instructor, notes a recent rise in the demand for canning classes.
When she began teaching three summers ago, there were few classes in the area. But with the greater availability of local and organic produce and a desire to control the sugar, preservatives and other additives in our food, she's seen a resurgence in canning.
"Just like with knitting, people are rediscovering the value of what we lost," Deardorff said.
Still, many first-timers are intimidated by the process. In addition to her fear of food-borne illness, Geney's hesitation stemmed from unpleasant recollections of her mom canning in a "kitchen full of steam and hot water," she said. "I remember it taking all day and half the night."
Taking classes helped allay Geney's fears. Her teacher, David DiCorpo, culinary instructor at the Cook's Warehouse, emphasized how easy and fun canning could be.
She says he compared the process to baking. "If you follow the steps, chances are good it will work," she said.
DiCorpo insists there are few canning failures. If the jar doesn't seal, put it in the refrigerator and enjoy it over the next week.
"The worst that can happen is that your jam doesn't set," he said. "Take off the label. Your raspberry jam is now raspberry syrup. No one will know it was for toast. Tell them it's for ice cream."
If you're still hesitant, you might find safety in numbers. Invite a few friends over for a canning party.
DiCorpo advocates what he calls canning summits. He advises setting aside time every other week during peak season.
"Just call your neighbor and grab a bushel of something to put up," he said.