Jars and jars of gleaming applesauce, dilly beans, salsa, pepper jelly, peaches and raspberry jam line the counters of Barbara McIntosh’s kitchen in Pullman, Washington. It’s mid-August, and the home canning marathon just ended.
Here, on a 1,000-acre spread, Barbara and Rhod McIntosh raised three daughters, one son, numerous dogs, a few cats and a herd of black Angus cows.
“We’re basically retired now,” Barb says. “One daughter and one son are married and have children. Our two oldest daughters have careers. Five years ago, my second daughter, Kris, said, ‘Mom, I want to learn how to can.'”
“You want to learn now?”
“Yes, and so do my friends, Lisa and Caroline.”
“I haven’t canned much since I began teaching full time, and that’s been 32 years ago,” Barb told her daughter. Yet she knew she hadn’t forgotten how.
“I have a few friends who might enjoy that,” Barb said at the time. “Mary, my longtime friend and neighbor, loves to can, so I’ll ask her.”
And that’s how the idea began and eventually grew into a fun-filled, busy canning time.
After a fifth successful canning marathon, daughter Kerri came up with a name: Four Mile Canning Creek Society.
Work up to the pace
“It’s easy to start a canning group in your home,” Barb says. That first year they had just one electric canner. They ended up with close to 400 jars of peaches, applesauce, relish and salsa, and they tried a few jars of pepper jelly, which has become one of their main products. All the canners were enthusiastic and wanted to come back the following August.
“Now it’s three full days, and 10 people is tops for our space. We have three electric canners going. I clear off all the counters, including the coffee pot. Our work table is 10 feet long, and every inch is used.”
Last year they bought 200 pounds of tomatoes for the salsa. “We had tomatoes everywhere! We decided not to make that much again,” Barb says.
At the McIntosh gathering, the dads and Grandfather Rhod entertain the children. One year, they built a raft for a nearby creek, christening it The USS Salsa.
Emphasis on fun
“We’ve had a few flops,” Barb says. “One year we had too much liquid in the pepper jelly, so it didn’t set. We ate it, but I decided later, if that happens again, I’m going to toss it. If a lid doesn’t seal, don’t put it on your shelf. You can empty the contents and freeze it, or put it in the fridge to use within 10 days.”
Taking home jars of produce is fun, but the best thing is getting together, talking, laughing and just having a good time. “The camaraderie is absolutely the most important of all,” Barb says.
Barbara is already planning the next canning marathon. “We’re going to try some specialty
items – relishes, chutneys, who knows what else. And the ones coming from the west side (Seattle area) are busy planning their own mini-canning weekend to prepare Christmas gifts.”
Find Your Stride
The group’s to-do list is long:
- Make a list of things you want to can.
- Use homegrown. The McIntoshes raise
raspberries, beans and apples.
- Look for sales on buying food in bulk. Going
to farm stands is the best source.
- Buy salt and sugar in bulk.
- Buy the jars, or use what you have on hand.
- Share expenses of buying the food and
- Rise at 7; be ready to start canning at 8.
- Fix dinners ahead of time and put in freezer. Eat in shifts.
- Make a list of who does what.
- Take turns peeling. Some measure. Others wash and scald jars.
- Have more than one canner. Electric canners work well.
- Assign one person to be in charge of the timers.
- Take a break. Walk outside. This helps ease muscles and prevent soreness.
- Try new things, such as pepper jelly.
- No small children allowed in the kitchen.
Birdie Etchison lives on the Long Beach Peninsula in southwest Washington State. She’s been a writer for 45 years. The mother of six now has eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.