Karen Schuppert, a Napa Valley chef and teacher focused on seasonal and healthy eating, was getting more and more requests from clients wanting to learn about canning.
Sheri Hurley, proprietress of Hurley Farms of Napa Valley, spends days in the farm kitchen canning produce, making jams, jellies and preserves.
When the two met serving on the board of the Napa farmers market, a collaborative project took off.
Last Saturday, the first group of eight students gathered in the professional kitchen at Hurley Farms. Their goal was to learn a skill — some might call it an art — that their grandmothers and great-aunts practiced but this generation has generally missed out on.
Schuppert and Hurley were teaching the first of three classes they’re trying out this fall exploring techniques and recipes for “putting up” seasonal produce.
First on the agenda was tomatoes. The class would learn a basic canning lesson with tomatoes provided by the bounty of the Hurley farm, and also try a more adventurous tomato marmalade using a recipe provided by Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena.
“There are a lot of reasons for canning and preserving foods,” said Schuppert, a certified nutritionist who completed the natural chef training at Bauman College. She has taught classes at Napa Whole Foods and has a website, Cook4seasons.com. Her columns on the Napa Farmers Market have also appeared in the Register food section.
“It extends the season for produce,” Schuppert said. “It allows you to regulate the ingredients — salt, for instance. And you truly know the source of the produce, whether it’s your garden or the farmers market or tomatoes a neighbor has given to you. We’re so much more in tune with these things today.”
Canning, however, “was not in my comfort zone,” Schuppert said. Yet when she asked students what they were most interested in, it was “always at the top of the list.”
“This is a learning curve for me too,” she said, as the class began. “I am the ham. Sheri is the one who knows what she’s doing.”
Hurley was working as a bookkeeper until 15 years ago when she and her family purchased the four-acre farm on Silverado Trail in Napa. On the farm, they have 65 fruit trees, 800 raspberry bushes, 400 blackberry bushes, grapes and vegetables including tomatoes. Hurley also raises chickens, with 100 contented hens (and one quite satisfied-looking rooster) clucking around a spacious hen house and yard.
Hurley said she learned about canning and making preserves from her mother-in-law, Lilian Hurley. “She gave me a Farmers Almanac and a Ball guide to canning,” she said.
Soon, in addition to selling produce at the farmers market in Napa, Hurley was making jams, jellies and other condiments for wineries. She now has the Napa Wine Jelly label, in addition to her own. During harvest season, she can be found in the farm’s professional kitchen, stirring up batches of preserves.
“I had thought about teaching classes,” she said. “I have this big kitchen, but I’d never taught a class before.”
The students signed up for the inaugural classes had taken other cooking classes with Schuppert. Among them was Holly Krassner of Napa, who said she, along with her husband, Dan Dawson, had recently taken a plunge in to the world of canning, putting up tomatoes and also making pickles.
Another participant said her goal was to find something to do with an enormous bounty of tomatoes her neighbor had delivered to her.
“You can only eat so many,” she said.
“The one thing about canning is it takes time,” Schuppert said. “You have to set aside a day or a weekend.”
A class, however, can streamline the process, introducing the equipment needed, as well as pitfalls. It also provided the sociable camaraderie of an old-fashioned quilting bee. When one student’s jar of tomatoes cracked, sympathy was prompt. A tasting of the marmalade was a highlight. And everyone went home with a jar of tomatoes and another of marmalade.
The easy-going, four-hour class began with a tour of the farm, after which students stirred up a batch of the marmalade, which requires cooking.
While it simmered on the stove, they tackled the basic tomato canning lesson, first choosing their own blend from a variety of tomatoes.
While canning does require specialized equipment, Hurley noted it’s widely available — “You can find it at Target, Walmart and (in Napa) Shackfords.”
“There’s an initial investment,” she said, for a pot large enough to accommodate jars, as well as a seven-piece utensil set that include a jar lifter (for putting it into and taking it out of the boiling water) and a lid magnet. Canning starter kits are available online.
For those who want to try it at home on their own, both teachers advised getting a good book. Hurley suggested the classic guides from Ball, the jar makers. “It shows what to do step by step.” Another book she likes is Liana Krissoff’s “Canning for a New Generation.” Both Ball guides and Krissoff’s book are available from Amazon.com.
“Follow the recipes,” Hurley said. “You’ll do fine.
“Start small,” she added. “Small batches are better.”
Her final advice: “Invite someone over. It’s fun that way.”
Hurley and Schuppert will be offering two more “Preserving the Bounty” sessions on Oct. 22 and Nov. 5, 1-4 p.m. For more information, call 304-4665 or email email@example.com
provided by Farmstead Restaurant
10 lbs. ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 lemons, sliced thin, seeds removed
2 oranges, sliced thin, seeds removed
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
8 pounds sugar
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Ras el Hanout* or curry powder
Cook all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot for about 1 1/2 hours or until mixture reaches 220 degrees. Ladle into jars and seal.
Uses: Spread this marmalade on crostini and top with a sharp or pungent cheese. Or spread it on a smoked turkey and cheddar sandwich or a ham biscuit during the holidays. It also goes well as an accompaniment to roast pork, lamb, or chicken, or even a nice meaty white fish.
*Ras el Hanout is a popular Moroccan blend of spices that is used across North Africa. The name means “top of the shop” in Arabic and refers to a mixture of the best spices a seller has to offer. There is no definitive set combination of spices that makes up Ras el Hanout. Each shop, company, or person would have their own secret combination containing over a dozen spices. Typically, they would include cardamom, clove, ground cinnamon, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorn and turmeric.