“If I can make it harder for myself, I will. I’m that kind of person.” That was Go Go Green Garden owner Amy Pennington, introducing herself at a canning class at Dish It Up! in Magnolia. As she said this, Pennington was hand-grinding mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle. She won’t buy an electric spice grinder because she’s “too cheap,” she says, and prefers her trusty blender to the sleek handheld immersion processor the Dish It Up! staff provided—even though it adds about three steps to the canning process.

That kind of person is exactly the sort of person who would run a garden business and can their own foods. I like gardening and old-timey kitchen techniques too, as it so happens, but I had come to the class in order to overcome a fear of food preservation (I had nightmares about botulism after canning with my mother as a kid). And happily, despite her claim that she complicates things compulsively, Amy made it look so easy, I bought a steam canner the next day.

We learned many wonderful things in canning class that day, things like:

You don’t always have to use pectin. Pectin is a natural fruit derivative that’s used as a thickening agent for jam and sauces. Unfortunately, pectin is rather high-maintenance, requiring precise temperatures and timing. Amy showed us how to use lemon peels to thicken a recipe of apricot mustard. She used a vegetable peeler to remove the outside skin, cut it in half, juiced it, and threw all the parts into pot, including the seeds. “That means I have to fish them out later, but like I said, I like to make it harder on myself.”

Pickling doesn’t require a water bath. Usually, you have to boil or steam your jars for 10 or 20 minutes to kill the germs and seal the lids so the food inside doesn’t go bad. But pickles are just veggies drowned in vinegar, and vinegar is acidic enough to kill anything that might have crept into your jar. Amy just keeps an open gallon-sized jar of pickled carrots in her fridge that she adds to regularly. And that’s all there is to it.

Appearance counts for a lot. Amy told a story of looking at jars of gray peaches in her mother’s pantry and thinking canning was the most unappetizing way to preserve food. In her canning life now, aesthetics and taste are equally important. Her demonstration on canning peaches was full of tricks. Blanche and peel the peaches. Add hibiscus to the water to turn it pink and help the fruit keep its color. Face the peach halves inward so you don’t have to look at the pit hole through the glass. When she taught us how to make herb-infused vinegar, she stopped to remove a brown leaf from a stalk of oregano: “It was unsightly,” she said.

All photos by Judy Naegeli

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