Several years ago, at what used to be JK Wine Bar, there was a wall of multi-coloured jars sitting neatly on narrow shelves. It was a beautiful display of mysterious and delicious pickled items to be served with dishes at some future date. Since then, many other restaurants have followed the decorative and edible path that Chef Jamie Kennedy had forged. Of course, people have been canning and preserving for years without making a big deal of it – but canning seems to be seeing a resurgence of late, from shops to restaurants to homes. It’s everywhere.
Driven by nostalgia, need, or curiosity, in the end, it’s all about saving a bit of harvest’s peak for those cold winter months when the sun’s warmth feels so very faint and the sweet smells of earth and vine are but a memory. And with the multitude of markets around you, there’s no shortage of wonderfully delicious and local goods to preserve.
I found myself at the family-friendly Leslieville Market with fruit that, try as I might, I knew I wouldn’t finish before they’d waste away. So how fortuitous it was that Toronto author Sarah B. Hood was also in attendance promoting her new book We Sure Can!; there were strawberries that I needed to save.
This past winter, I’d met Sarah at a dinner hosted by a mutual friend. Even through that brief contact, it was apparent that she knew her stuff. While you can look online for how-to-can instructions, having a reputable and knowledgeable guide through the ins and outs of canning is comforting. You certainly don’t want to go all willy-nilly about it – botulism is still a real concern.
In We Sure Can!, Sarah covers the current state of pickling and jamming in 2011 and gives notes and concerns on getting started. I spent an enjoyable afternoon sipping iced tea and learning how she got into preserving and the rise of preserving through social networking. Of course, there are also recipes of all kinds to suit your fruit or vegetable – and level of experience. Lucky for me, strawberry is on the easy end of the jamming scale.
Should things go awry, there are some chuckle-inducing directions in We Sure Can! on how one should relabel your strawberry jam to strawberry sauce and none the wiser. No notes on if you veer over to the “gummy bear” side of jam though, which is where I found myself. Perhaps strawberry gelée? But I discovered that I need only a little hot water to help things get back to spreadable state. Apparently, more practice is required before I can begin inflicting my enthusiastic jamming on innocent friends and family.