Vail seasonal: Preserve the flavor of the Colorado harvest |

Vail seasonal: Preserve the flavor of the Colorado harvest

Sue Barham
Vail CO Colorado
Sue Barham/Special to the Vail DailyCan cherries to enjoy them all year long in the Vail Valley

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –Who in Colorado’s Vail Valley doesn’t love going to the farmers’ markets? It’s a local past time. We look forward to it for months. The warm weather brings the harvest and the farmers show up with the bounty. In our small community, we support three large markets, and see several of the same farmers at each one. We savor our favorite fruits and venture out to try new leafy vegetables. Alas, the summer is short in the Rockies, so learn a new skill so you can enjoy the harvest when old man winter is at his most bitter.

The preservation of fresh fruits and vegetables has a rich and global history. At earliest record, it was Emperor Napolean Bonaparte of France who offered a national prize to an individual who could devise a reliable method of food preservation. This was the 17th century and the armies needed food supplies that could travel long distances in unknown territory.

A Frenchman, Nicholas Alpert, won the prize replicating a winemakers’ technique. Through years of experimentation, he learned that heating and sealing the food item would yield dependable results. He proudly presented his ‘bottled’ foods. Shortly following, England developed a method using unbreakable tins which was far more preferable. This development led to the first commercial cannery in 1813 which was located in England.

As more and more of the world was explored, and the demand grew for provisioning the military of various countries, the cannery business flourished. At about the same time the first cannery opened in England, another Brit emigrated to the new world and opened a cannery in New York. More than 50 years later, Louis Pasteur provided the explanation for canning’s effectiveness when he was able to demonstrate that the growth of microorganisms causes food spoilage.

As the United States’ own history evolved, canning was an important industry to the military. During World War I, the government encouraged its citizens to grow victory gardens and can the surplus at home for later use. This allowed redistribution of commercial supplies. During the depression in the 1930s, land grant colleges promoted improved methods of home canning and nutrition in their publications as a way to stretch the family budget. By World War II, home canning was a typical activity for homemakers.

Later, American women went to the work force and grocery stores boomed with a variety of convenience products and the latest in food preservation – frozen foods. Today, with more interest in organic, local foods, there is a reawakening of the traditional method of home food preservation – the canning techniques of our grandmothers and their grandmothers.

Allana Smith, kitchen director of Larkspur and Avondale, learned the method during childhood from her own grandmother.

“Canning is so simple,” she said. “Anyone can learn it by watching one time. It saves money and allows you to enjoy the flavors of summer in the dead of winter. Fruits and vegetables have their highest nutrient content when they are fully ripened. So canning them at this stage also preserves their nutritional value.”

Smith initiated a canning program at Larkspur in its first summer, 10 years ago. Starting with cherry season, the shortest of Colorado crops, she sets aside one day each June to can enough whole, pitted cherries to use throughout the winter on cheese platters and in savory sauces at the restaurant. Throughout the summer she will target other crops, too, for a day of canning. The peaches of Palisade make a delicious jam and are served to Avondale’s breakfast guests all year.

I had the opportunity to watch the cherry canning procedure at Larkspur last week, and for a novice it appeared to be a daunting task.

“That’s because we’re making almost 100 jars of cherries!” Smith exclaimed. “If you were doing this at home you would start with a couple bags of cherries … You’d shoot for about four jars.”

I watched carefully and agreed that the technique was indeed simple, and quickly became inspired to can about four jars of my own. Here’s how:

Assemble your equipment:

You’ll need a large stock pot, for sterilizing the jars and then to boil the filled jars.

One medium pot – to make simple syrup.

A mesh sieve with a long handle, which you’ll use to to sterilize the lids and metal bands.

A jar lifter – the only special tool required, and well worth purchasing to avoid burns.

Glass Jars – the ones made for canning are thick enough to withstand the heat.

Tops with seal – Most canning jars sold today use a two piece self-sealing lid, which consists of a flat metal disc with a rubber-type sealing compound around one side near the outer edge, and a separate screw-type metal band. The flat lid may only be used once but the screw band can be used over as long as it is cleaned well and doesn’t begin to rust.

Choose ripe, unblemished cherries and pit them, leaving whole. Assemble your equipment from the list above. Place a rack in the bottom of deep pot and fill with water to within six inches of top. Bring to a boil. Sterilize clean jars by placing them into the pot on the rack with your jar lifter. Do not allow them to touch each other or the sides of the pot. Place the 2-part lids in the mesh sieve and lower into the pot making sure there is enough water to cover (or do this step separately). Boil the jars and lids for 20 minutes (at altitude of 8,000 feet.) In a separate pan, make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Leave on heat, simmering. Remove sieve from boiling water. Remove jars with lifter, inverting to displace water. Immediately fill jars with cherries and add simple syrup to cover. Close with the two-part lids. Lower filled jars back into the water bath, leaving one inch of water space around each. Jars should be covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. Cover the pan and bring the water back to a rolling boil. When water is boiling, boil the jars for 40 minutes (at altitude of 8,000 feet) When processing time is complete, remove jars from water bath and place on a cooling rack with at least one inch of space between them. Allow to cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours. Check to make sure all seals are tight before placing in storage. (This technique can be applied to any fruit or vegetable, homemade preserves, jam, sauces, pickles, etc.)

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.

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