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I Think, Therefore I Can

When I started working for UF/IFAS Extension in Osceola County, I learned that one of my program areas would include teaching food preservation classes. I suddenly had flashbacks to my Peace Corps service, living with my host family, and watching my mama gazda (host mother) making giant jars of compote, which is a juice made from fresh fruits. She would boil them for hours and then store them upside down on the floor, covering them with a blanket. My second host family used to preserve tomato sauce and potatoes in preparation for winter, and store them in their cellar where it was dark and cold. Back then, I had no idea if they were doing it correctly, but I marveled at how they just seemed to “know” what to do. I also couldn’t get enough, especially of the compote.

I had never practiced food preservation as a child. When my brother and I were very young, my parents used to preserve vegetables from our greenhouse in Slovakia. However, that stopped when we moved to the States, so there wasn’t anything to pass down to me in terms of preserving. Everything I had learned was as an Extension Agent, working with my colleagues and practicing. I didn’t allow myself to teach alone until I felt like I knew the process forwards and backwards.

Food preservation, or canning, has been around for centuries. It was, and still is, a great way to keep food from spoiling too quickly. The interest in preserving has reignited, especially at a time when home gardening has become popular and families are finding themselves with more produce than they know what to do with!

Along with preserving has come new technology and new recipes for making safe products at home. Using a mother’s or grandmother’s recipes are not recommended because they have been found to be outdated and unsafe. Many recipes can be found online on cooking websites, but not all can be trusted. The ratio of ingredients may not be exactly right to allow for the particular balance that keeps bacteria from growing in the product. Some recipes may suggest substituting honey or a sugar substitute for table sugar, thinking it’s the same as cooking or baking. However, it is not the same, so there are separate recipes that use honey or sugar substitutes which yield a safe product.

For researched and safe canning recipes, one can find a great resource with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, at http://nchfp.uga.edu/. The University of Georgia also publishes a book called “So Easy to Preserve” which can only be ordered on their website: http://setp.uga.edu/. Versions on Amazon and other sites have altered recipes with deleted or modified ingredients, which can result in an unsafe product if used.

Other state Extension programs also provide wonderful resources appropriate for their climate and elevation level, such as Washington State and Wisconsin. Individuals can find lots of canning resources on any state Extension’s site, including Florida’s. The best way to learn about the most current recipes is to practice. Whether you are new or experienced, please consider attending a food preservation class! In Osceola County, visit http://ocfcs.eventbrite.com for upcoming classes.

Even after all of these years, I can’t help but think about my host families and their preparations for winter. I can’t help but think of all of the things they had done that are considered outdated and not appropriate under new guidelines. However, now I have experiences and examples to share with others. And now, I can “can” with my parents.

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